Articles Posted in Mass Tort

ear-1419038-905x1024This afternoon a lawsuit was filed by the Berniard Law Firm and Martzell, Bickford and Centola Law firm on behalf of Yuri M. Johnson against the 3M Company in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The Plaintiff, Yuri M. Johnson, is a US Army combat veteran. During his time with the Army, he was stationed at Jackson Barracks located at New Orleans, Louisiana. Yuri was deployed overseas in Iraq in 2005, deployed to Camp Shelby in Mississippi in 2007 and also was deployed to a base in Michigan, in 2009. Yuri alleges that while serving with the army he was supplied defective dual-ended Combat Arms™ earplugs to protect his hearing.

Unfortunately, the earplugs supplied to Yuri during his time with the army were the same earplugs that were the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged the earplugs contained a dangerous design defect. The whistleblower lawsuit went on to allege that when the earplug is used the way it is supposed to be used it can become loose in the ear canal which leads to a failure to provide hearing protection. As a result of that whistleblower lawsuit, the Defendant 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it supplied the United States with defective dual-ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs. See United States of America ex rel. Moldex-Metric, Inc. v. 3M Company;

As a result of using these earplugs during combat and training, Mr. Johnson alleges that he continues to suffer daily from tinnitus, hearing loss, and other damages. According to the allegations of the lawsuit, 3M employees were aware of the defects as early as 2000, several years before 3M/Aearo became the exclusive provider of the earplugs to the military. The lawsuit goes on to state, that despite this knowledge, in 2003, Aearo submitted a bid in response to the military’s Request for Proposal to supply large quantities of these defective earplugs and entered into a contract pursuant to which it became the exclusive supplier of earplugs to the military.

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In May of 2016, a groundbreaking whistleblower lawsuit was filed against the 3M company. In this lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant 3m sold defective earplugs (hearing protection) to the United States government for more than a decade. The lawsuit alleged that not only were these defective earplugs sold to the government but the allegations in the lawsuit were that 3M knew of the defect during the time they were sold. The earplugs were sold the United States government for use by the armed services from 2003 to 2015.

The lawsuit went on to claim that the earplugs were standard issued dual-ended Combat Arms™ brand that was issued to branches of the military service during times of combat. Due to the defect, the lawsuit alleged that it could have caused significant hearing loss to thousands of soldiers during the relevant time period. If a member of the armed services has hearing loss that they contracted during their time while serving the country the United States ultimately is on the hook for their medical cost related to the hearing loss. Therefore, the lawsuit alleged that these earplugs could end up costing the United States government through the Veterans Affairs medical treatment system millions or even billions of dollars for treatment related to hearing loss and tinnitus. The allegations of this lawsuit were absolutely shocking and justice must be sought for these claims.

On July 25, 2018, 3M settled with the United States for the claims made in the whistleblower lawsuit. 3M did not admit any of the allegations made in that lawsuit, but they did agree to pay over nine million dollars to end the litigation. The Justice Department of the United States put out a press release after the settlement stating that they are committed to using the False Claims Act to protect the taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse. The Berniard Law Firm applauds the Justice Department in the prosecution of all whistleblower claims.

oil-refinery-1239476-1024x683In the midst of a very active hurricane season, it is important to remember that Louisiana is no stranger to this type of inevitable damage. However, the dangers involved in disaster clean-up efforts are often forgotten, and far too often people who aid in these efforts aren’t compensated fairly when things turn awry. A recent lawsuit helped linemen who faced similar dangers recover for injuries they sustained during a disaster clean-up.  

Due to a severe storm in 2006, CITGO Petroleum Corporation’s Calcasieu Parish Refinery stormwater and storage system overflowed, resulting in a major oil spill. Experts described the spill as being “catastrophic.”  The storm caused 21 million gallons of wastewater to escape, including 17 million gallons of contaminated wastewater and 4.2 million gallons of slop oil. The escaping hazardous waste spilled into surrounding levees and dikes and contaminated over 100 miles of shoreline along the Calcasieu River and required several months of clean up. Employees of Ron Williams Construction that worked at CITGO’s refinery filed a lawsuit for chemical exposure.

Prior to this lawsuit, several other employees of Ron Williams Construction filed a lawsuit against CITGO (for ease of reference, this prior case will be referred to as Arabie 1) and received a favorable verdict. Arabie v. CITGO Petroleum Corp., 89 So.3d 307 (La. 2012). In Arabie 1, the Ron Williams Construction employees received damages, but after several appeals, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the district court’s award of $30,000 in punitive damages to each employee. This still resulted in a favorable verdict for the employees, but they were awarded less in damages.  

more-large-yard-ornaments-1560393-1024x683The government owes a duty to its citizens to serve their best interests. But what happens when the government breaches that duty? Can we, as citizens, sue our government for perceived wrongs it has committed? Can we recover damages? This is an especially critical issue when it comes to a government’s responsibility to its citizens in times of natural disasters, as illustrated by the following case.

On August 26, 2012, in anticipation of Hurricane Isaac’s arrival, both Governor Bobby Jindal and St. John the Baptist Parish (“Parish”) President, Natalie Robottom, declared a state of emergency. Hurricane Isaac hit three days later. On October 26, 2012, sixty Parish residents (“Residents”), who suffered flood damages as a result of Hurricane Isaac, filed a class action against the Parish. The Residents alleged that the Parish was negligent and at fault for its failure to warn of the probability of flooding, its failure to declare a mandatory evacuation, and its failure to take steps to lessen the damage to the Residents.

The Parish filed an exception of no cause of action on June 24, 2014. An exception of no cause of action raises the question of whether the law provides a remedy to anyone under the facts alleged in the petition. Specifically, the Parish claimed it was entitled to immunity from the Residents’ claims under the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act (“Act”). The Fortieth Judicial District Court Parish of St. John the Baptist held that the Parish was immune to the Residents’ claims under the Act. Accordingly, the Trial Court granted the Parish’s exception of no cause of action and dismissed the Residents’ claims. The Residents attempted to amend their petition for damages to try and overcome the immunity defense but the Trial Court denied this request.  The Residents filed an appeal, arguing that the Trial Court erred in dismissing their claims based on the Parish’s immunity.

sea-1489887-1024x683The United States judiciary is often called upon to decide upon large-scale international disputes. From the trials of foreign government officials for human rights violations to the trials of multinational corporations for environmental damage the world over, U.S. courts play a critical role in international dispute settlement. In a recent case, a number of the coastline Mexican states filed lawsuits against BP and the other companies involved in the drilling base’s failure in the U.S. District Courts. These lawsuits raised complicated questions of international law, federalism, and nuanced negligence law.  

In April 2010, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig – an offshore drilling base 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana – resulted in a massive oil spill.  The oil rig sank, causing a seafloor oil gusher to flow.  Over nearly three months, millions of gallons of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico while officials attempted to plug the hole.  The oil spill caused environmental damage throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Coastal regions sustained particularly harsh damages, including accelerated shoreline erosion and wildlife deformation, among other ecosystem effects.

Lawsuits from three Mexican states – Veracruz, Tamaulipas, and Quintana Roo – were consolidated in the Eastern District of Louisiana in 2013 as a result of Deepwater Horizon’s multidistrict litigation following the 2010 oil spill.  The Mexican states claimed five companies – BP, Transocean, Halliburton, Anadarko, and Cameron – were liable for negligence and violation of the Oil Pollution Act (“OPA”) as a result of the oil spill. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the co-defendants of the original lawsuit.  The Mexican states appealed the District Court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.

pregnant-1-1431161-683x1024While having a child and starting a family is something that many couples look forward to in their lives, pregnancy can be very painful and burdensome on the mother. There are many drugs that can help prevent the negative side effects of pregnancy, like nausea and morning sickness, however, those drugs can sometimes do more harm than good. Nothing is worse than going through a difficult pregnancy, and then having a child born prematurely with birth defects because of drugs that were supposed to help.

One case on appeal from the Eastern District of Louisiana involves such a situation. Lindsey Whitener (“Ms. Whitener”) had a son who was born both prematurely and with birth defects after she was prescribed metoclopramide in order to treat her nausea and morning sickness that she frequently experienced during her nine months of pregnancy. Ms. Whitener and her husband filed a lawsuit against a number of different pharmaceutical companies, and their main argument was that these companies had promoted the use of the drug to treat morning sickness, which was an “off-label” use. An off-label use means that a drug is prescribed for uses that are not approved by the FDA. The District Court dismissed the claims brought forth by the Whiteners because they failed to show that the defendants promoted these off-label activities. The Whiteners appealed the decision of the District Court, and the case went before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Ms. Whitener began experiencing morning sickness very early on in her pregnancy and was prescribed the metoclopramide shortly after she began to complain of the sickness to her doctor. Metoclopramide is a generic version of the drug Reglan, and Reglan does not list morning sickness as an FDA approved the use. In 2010, the Whiteners sued PLIVA, Inc., Barr Laboratories, Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd., Alaven Pharmaceutical L.L.C., Meda Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Schwarz Pharma, Inc. PLIVA, Barr, and Teva manufactured metoclopramide; and Alaven, Meda, and Schwarz manufactured Reglan. The Whiteners first claimed that the defendants had failed to warn them about the dangers of using metoclopramide during a pregnancy. Some of the defendants however relied on the Supreme Court decision from PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing which held that, “because federal law requires generic drug labels to be the same at all times as corresponding brand-name drug labels, state-law inadequate warning claims based on a generic drug manufacturer’s failure to provide a more adequate label are preempted.” HPLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 131 S. Ct. 2567, 2577-78 (2011). Essentially, this means that when the state and federal drug laws conflict, the federal drug laws will preempt or replace the state law. Ms. Whitener’s state law claim that the defendants had failed to warn them about the dangers of the drug conflicted with the federal law and the District Court thus held that the state law claim was preempted.

chemicals-1240490-1024x688Bringing a mass tort claim is an extremely complicated task, even for the best of lawyers. Luckily, the attorneys for a group of Plaintiffs in a suit against Evans Harvey Corp. and its insurer, Lexington Insurance Co., knew exactly what they were doing. In the end, each Plaintiff was awarded damages ranging from $2,500 to $13,500. The following discussion serves as an example of one of the rare successes in the mass tort context.

On March 31, 1998, Evans Harvey Corp. was doing maintenance work on a drum reconditioning unit at its facility in Harvey, Louisiana. During the work, there was a chemical release for approximately ten minutes. In those ten minutes, multiple people were exposed to hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulfide released into the air in the immediate and surrounding area. As a result of the exposure to the chemicals, many people reported itchy eyes, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, and itchy skin.

Ten people exposed to the chemicals brought suit against the corporation. Three of them were never seen by a doctor and treated themselves with over the counter remedies, while the remainder were treated either on-site or at a nearby hospital. After being certified as a class for a class-action lawsuit, the case was tried before a district court judge in July 2013. At trial, the Plaintiffs won their case and were awarded between $2,500 and up to $13,500 plus special damages for each Plaintiff. In September 2013, three additional Plaintiffs who were not in the original class were awarded damages.

railroad-in-firenzi-1214429-768x1024If you are the victim of a tort, sometimes the damages can have lasting effects. For example, a toxic chemical spill can have negative health effects on anyone drinking contaminated water far beyond the time and date of the actual spill. There is a legal doctrine called continuing tort theory that can provide some relief in such a case. However, some Fisherville neighborhood residents in Lake Charles, Louisiana recently discovered in their negligence suit against Union Pacific Corporation (“Union Pacific”) that continuing tort theory does not apply to injuries suffered from a past accident where reasonable remedial efforts have been made. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the Trial Court’s decision to grant Union Pacific’s motion for partial summary judgment, thereby dismissing the case.

The circumstances surrounding the lawsuit dealt with a chemical spill that took place on April 20, 1983. A railcar carrying approximately 11,000 gallons of perchloroethylene (PCE) released the chemical through an open valve while parked at the Lake Charles Rail Yard. Southern Pacific Transportation Company (“Southern Pacific”), a predecessor-in-interest of Union Pacific, owned the rail yard and railcar; PPG Industries (“PPG”) owned the chemicals. Southern Pacific and PPG cleaned the area, allegedly eliminating all of the PCE from the ground surface level by mid-July 1983. However, roughly 1,150 gallons of PCE remained underground and cleaning and remediation efforts continued through monitoring and extraction of the groundwater and through the installation of monitoring wells at the release site and in the neighborhood.

On March 3, 2003, five lawsuits were filed and consolidated into this case. At the Trial Court level, the Plaintiffs initially experienced success when the Trial Court granted them class action status. The Trial Court also stated that the Plaintiffs could pursue their claim on a continuing tort theory. However, the Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment on April 28, 2014, in which they sought dismissal of the claim based on prescription and the Plaintiffs’ alleged failure to provide discovery responses. The Trial Court granted the Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment. Subsequently, the Plaintiffs appealed the decision.

hospital-s-corridor-1631146-1-1024x765Class action lawsuit certification is one of the most complex areas of the law to explain. The question of whether a lawsuit would be best as a class action or as individual lawsuits often comes down to a determination of what is the best method for fair and efficient adjudication for both the plaintiffs and the defendant.

Across the state of Louisiana, people are filing lawsuits against health care providers under the Health Care Consumer Billing and Disclosure Protection Act, hereafter referred to as the Balance Billing Act.  See La. Rev. Stat. § 22:1871 et seq. As a result of these lawsuits,  the Louisiana Second Circuit had denied class certification for a group of plaintiffs while the Louisiana Third Circuit had approved a class certification in their jurisdiction. Thus a split of the circuits existed and therefore it was time for the Louisiana Supreme Court to weigh in.

Certain Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in 2011 claiming the Defendant, Minden Medical Center, “engaged in unlawful billing practices by billing them in an amount in excess of the agreed upon rate negotiated between the hospital and plaintiffs’ respective insurers.”  As a result of that lawsuit a question was presented for review to the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana whether these types of lawsuits (balance bill violations) would be better handled as class action or on an individual basis.

 Prilosec and Nexium Lawsuit Claims
As medications known as PPIs become more and more common and readily available on the open market, the number of medication related injuries, complications and side effects also increase. Nexium and Prilosec have been known to cause serious medical conditions such as heart attack, kidney failure, and bone fractures, and prolonged use can increase the risk for these injuries dramatically. Currently, the number of law suits against the manufacturer of Prilosec and Nexium, AstraZeneca, continues to rise each day as more and more individuals are negatively affected by the drugs the company produces. Here are five things you need to know about these lawsuits against AstraZeneca and Prilosec/Nexium claims.

First, it is important to know that there are many different claims that an individual could have as a result of the use of Nexium or Prilosec. The claims against AstraZeneca have ranged from production of dangerous or defective medications, to insufficient labels warning of the dangers of the drugs, to even illegal marketing strategies which include hiding side effects and dangers from the public. If a loved one or family friend has died after complications arising from the use of Prilosec or Nexium, then a wrongful death claim could also be brought against the company.

Second, as Nexium is available over the counter and without a prescription now, the number of users, and therefore lawsuits, will continue to rise. This also means that a greater number of side effects and a greater variety of complications will also start to emerge. Thus, it is important to seek legal and medical advice if you are experiencing any sort of side effects from either Prilosec or Nexium, and not just the hallmark issues of kidney failure, heart attack and bone fractures. As more studies are being done, more and more side effects are being discovered and attributed to the medications. Be sure to consult a physician as well as a lawyer when preparing to file a lawsuit.