December 15, 2015: A Northern California jury hit Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon with $70 million in punitive damages for hiding defects in its PPH 03 hemorrhoid stapler, just days after awarding a former San Jose police officer $10 million in compensatory damages who accidentally had her anus stapled shut during hemorrhoid surgery in 2012.
Florence Kuhlmann, a former San Jose police officer, alleged in her lawsuit that her surgeon inserted the PPH 03 stapler into her during surgery to treat her hemorrhoids, but couldn’t fire the device due to a defect. In attempting to remove the stapler from Kuhlmann, her surgeon fired the stapler again, which sealed Kuhlmann’s anus shut. As a result, Kuhlmann was left with a life-long need for a colostomy bag.
Kuhlmann’s attorneys presented evidence at trial that showed that Ethicon knew of the stapler’s defects, which caused the device to misfire, for over a decade and did nothing to change the device’s design or manufacturing process to eliminate the risk of harm to patients like Kuhlmann. Ethicon, through a spokesperson, said it would appeal the verdict. The case is Kuhlmann v. Endo-Surgery, Inc. and J&J Healthcare Systems, case number 13675753 in Alameda County Superior Court.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective medical device, contact the experienced products liability attorneys at the Law Offices of Brian D. Witzer for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights.
Unless you have been living under a rock, hoverboards are the craze of the holiday season and are far and away the most popular gift being unwrapped this Christmas. While the gadgets have been wildly popular among the young and not so young, they also have been the subject of a growing number of stories in the media regarding their safety.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (UCPSC) is currently investigating a least a dozen instances of hoverboards catching fire, destroying bedrooms and entire homes in certain instances. While the agency’s investigation is ongoing, CNET reports that all of these fires were likely a result of the lithium ion battery packs that power hoverboards. Lithium ion batteries contain a highly flammable liquid which can easily ignite if a defective battery short-circuits and pierces the thin sheet of plastic separating the positive and negative sides of the battery.
The fact that lithium ion batteries are volatile and present a fire hazard is not new news. These are the same types of batteries that power our cell phones, tablets, and laptops. In the 2000’s , stories of exploding cell phones and laptop fires dominated the headlines. Such incidents prompted computer maker Dell to recall millions of laptop lithium ion batteries after six of its laptops caught fire. More recently, Boeing had to ground its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft until it could develop a way to stop its lithium ion battery packs from overheating.
In response to these incidents, the UCPSC forced the consumer electronics industry to develop uniform safety standards for products that were powered by lithium ion batteries. As a result, more vigorous stress testing of lithium battery powered devices and implementation of additional safety measures, like emergency vents to prevent overheating, followed. As a result of those measures, laptops and cell phones have become relatively safe today.
Because they are are a brand new device, no such uniform safety standards exist for hoverboards. Most hoverboards are manufactured in hundreds of factories in China that use interchangeable components for many brands of hoverboards, making it difficult to source defective batteries or other components that may contribute to overheating of the battery. Because there is no uniform safety certification for these devices and vast array of companies competing to cash in on this latest technology fad, there is a huge incentive for manufacturers to cut corners on safety in order to increase profit margins .
While U.S. regulators are still investigating the causes of these fires, other countries and private companies have already taken action. The United Kingdom has virtually banned hoverboards in the country, making it illegal for them to be used on sidewalks and public streets. Several U.S. airlines and airports have banned the devices altogether. Depending on the results of the UCPSC investigation, several courses of action could be taken by U.S. regulators, ranging from adoption of stringent safety standards to an outright ban on the devices. It is important to remember that in addition to fire, hoverboards have been responsible for several emergency room visits over the holidays.
Pending action by regulators regarding hoverboards, consumers should consider refraining from purchasing them. However, for those that have already been injured from a hoverboard, consultation with a lawyer experienced in product liability law in your jurisdiction is highly recommended. The Law Offices of Brian D. Witzer, a law firm specializing in representing consumers injured by defective products is currently accepting hoverboard injury cases for review. If you or a loved one has been injured by a hoverboard, call the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Brian D. Witzer for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights.
Federal and California officials announced Friday that Volkswagen, the market leader in selling so-called “clean diesel” vehicles, installed software designed to cheat on U.S. and CA emissions tests. The L.A. Times reports that the software trick allows VW’s clean diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times the amount of nitrogen oxide allowed under current law. The software employs an algorithm that automatically detects when the vehicle is undergoing emissions tests and changes the way it performs so that the vehicle passes the tests.
California’s Air Resources Board became suspicious of VW after receiving several reports of emission problems with the automaker’s clean diesel models from European automotive pollution experts. The ARB began conducting independent testing of various VW clean diesel models, both on a special treadmill for cars, and on the open road using portable equipment. The testing revealed that the clean diesel vehicles performed quite differently than in EPA and CA standard testing environments. ARB investigators confirmed that VW programmed the engines in its clean diesel models to detect certification tests over several years and through three generations of engines.
Although VW has not publicly stated its reasons for programming its vehicles to cheat emissions certification tests, the likely motive was to promote high performance while at the same time being able to claim increased fuel economy.
VW admitted that it sold 482,000 models with the cheating software, which include the following popular “clean” diesel models: Jetta (model years 2009-2015), Beetle (model years 2009-2015), Audi A3 (model years 2009-2015), Golf (model years 2009-2015), and Passat (model years 2012-2015). In addition to recalling the affected vehicles and modifying the emissions systems at its own expense, the company faces state and federal fines , including $18 billion ($37,500) in fines alone under federal environmental regulations.
In addition to fines, VW faces significant liability from consumers who purchased the affected models, as those vehicles now have severely diminished resale value because of the software issue. Additionally, the retooled emissions systems will hurt the performance of the vehicles.
The Law Offices of Brian D. Witzer is currently reviewing cases involving owners of model year 2009-2015 VW and Audi vehicles with 2.0 liter, four-cylinder diesel engines. The firm is accepting cases from all over the country and is preparing class action and individual lawsuits for consumer fraud, unfair competition, and violations of various state and federal consumer protection laws and will seek damages for diminished resale value of the vehicles, diminished performance, and statutory penalties and attorneys’ fees. If you own any of the affected VW or Audi diesel models, contact the Law Offices of Brian D. Witzer today for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights.