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Articles Posted in Products Liability

The United States prescription drug industry generates billions of dollars in revenue per year. Statistically speaking, about one in two Americans used a prescribed medication during the last month, and about one in four used three or more drugs.

There are two ways to look at this situation. The more positive approach is to be thankful that we live in a time when so many medical conditions can be treated by the use of pharmaceuticals. The more skeptical approach is to consider whether we really need all of that medicine, or whether “Big Pharma” (as it is sometimes called) is more about money than benevolence.

Either way, one thing is for sure:  not all drugs are safe for all patients. Even medications that have gone through all of the required testing sometimes cause considerable harm and even death, inevitably leading to Massachusetts product liability lawsuits in Cape Cod and elsewhere.

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Typically, a worker who is hurt on the job is limited to benefits available to him or her under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. However, there are a few limited circumstances under which a third party may be liable in tort for the employee’s injuries.

One of these circumstances arises when a defective product was to blame for the worker’s injuries. Additionally, in some cases, the general contractor on a construction project may also be liable for the injuries of a subcontractor’s employee.

Of course, liability is never automatic, and these defendants – like most defendants who are facing the payout of a substantial verdict due to another person’s injuries – usually fight hard against a finding that they are legally responsible.

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As you may remember, 2015 was rife with vehicle recalls. According to news reports, there were in the neighborhood of 900 recalls in all, affecting tens of millions of vehicles. Issues such as sudden acceleration, faulty ignition switches, and Volkswagen’s infamous cheating on certain emissions tests made headlines throughout the year.

Although there have been fewer recalls thus far in 2016, that does not necessarily mean that manufacturers have stopped making vehicles with significant flaws. Quite the contrary.

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A recent court decision focused on the Ortho Evra patch, a birth control option that prevents pregnancy by transferring synthetic hormones through the wearer’s skin.

While arguably more convenient than other forms of birth control, the patch is not without risks, including death.

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There are many ways in which a product can be deemed defective. Sometimes, only a single defective product results from a manufacturing error. In other words, something went wrong during the process of making the product.

In other cases, all of the products in a particular line are found to be defective due to a poor design or perhaps a failure to warn. Recently, a Massachusetts appellate court reviewed a trial court’s decision declaring a medical device defective due to its design and lack of a proper warning.

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Product liability cases can arise in a wide array of situations, including on-the-job accidents. Recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court was called upon to decide a case in which an allegedly defective product caused the death of a man who was inspecting a roof.

Although the court’s opinion did not go into detail regarding whether the man had also filed a workers’ compensation claim, it is sometimes possible to pursue both workers’ compensation benefits and damages in tort against a negligent third party. If the tort lawsuit is successful, the workers’ compensation carrier may be entitled to repayment of certain benefits under the law of subrogation.

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If it seems as if there have been considerably more recalls, fines, and product safety alerts than usual as of late, it is not your imagination. In all, some 973 vehicle, equipment, child safety seat, and tire recalls were issued in 2015, affecting 87,596,264 products.

Now, the United States Department of Transportation has launched a campaign to bring public awareness to the specifics of the many recalls that are issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other governmental agencies annually. Called the “Safe Cars Save Lives” campaign, the goal of the USDOT is to increase public awareness of the existence of vehicle recalls, as well as offer instructions to consumers as to how to check for information about a particular vehicle.

In addition to online banner ads concerning vehicle and product safety, the campaign will also include VIN look-up tools and safety videos.

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The United States Supreme Court has two basic types of jurisdiction:  original and appellate. “Original jurisdiction” refers to cases over which the Court may hold a trial and render a judgment based upon the facts and the law. By contrast, “appellate jurisdiction” is the power of a court to review and, if warranted, revise decisions made by lower courts.

In an average one-year term, the United States Supreme Court receives around 10,000 petitions for review. However, in most cases, the Court has discretion as to whether to accept a case for appellate review, and an average of around 75 or 80 writs of certiorari granting review are handed down annually. Many of the cases for which certiorari is granted arise from the federal court system, but there are also some that have their origin in one of the state courts.

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In November, we told you about accusations – and a civil lawsuit – against national restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill. Since then, the number of customers allegedly sickened after consuming food in the restaurants has climbed significantly, with a number of Massachusetts consumers (including dozens of Boston College students) now included in the total.

Now, federal officials are apparently considering whether the restaurant chain’s conduct arose to the level of criminal culpability. According to news reports earlier this month, a subpoena has been issued in an investigation concerning a Chipotle restaurant in California by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Food and Drug Administration. It will be up to a federal grand jury to decide whether to pursue criminal charges.

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As many as 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies or sensitivities to certain food products, such as tree nuts, peanuts, and gluten. For such consumers, exposure to certain allergens can cause reactions as mild as a headache and as severe as anaphylaxis. This is one of many reasons why the correct labeling of food products is so important.

Unfortunately, mistakes are not uncommon. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracks recalls and safety alerts in order to keep the public aware of known issues, but sometimes this information comes too late to prevent accidental ingestion of – and sometimes severe reactions to – allergens by sensitive consumers.

When this happens, consumers do have some legal recourse. Just as with other products in the marketplace, food products can be the subject of a product liability lawsuit if an injury or death results from mislabeling.

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