U.S. Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Product Liability Lawsuit Lacking Plaintiff’s Testimony on Causation

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago addressed the issue of the need for expert testimony on causation when the issue is beyond the understanding of laypersons.

The product liability claim here involved the allegation of a defective intrauterine device (IUD) that broke when it was removed from the plaintiff’s uterus, leaving a fragment of it behind.

Cheryl Dalton sued Teva North America, the manufacturer and distributor of the ParaGard, the IUD.

“Dalton became dissatisfied with the IUD in 2013 and asked her doctor to remove it. The doctor did so by grasping the IUD’s strings with a ring forceps and pulling the IUD down. The procedure, however, removed only part of the IUD. A piece had broken off either before or during the removal, and that piece was lodged in her uterus. Dalton’s doctor advised her that removing the remaining portion of the IUD would require a hysterectomy.”

On a summary judgment motion by Teva, the U.S. District Court granted it, holding that Dalton had chosen not to present expert testimony on causation as required by the State Product Liability Act because jurors could not determine the cause of the broken IUD and, therefore, could only speculate as to whether the IUD was defective as manufactured or broken when implanted or removed by the doctor.

The court of appeals opinion by Judge Amy Comey Barrett held that without expert testimony on causation, jurors could only speculate on causation.

The court held that under any area of product liability, the plaintiff must prove that her injury was proximately caused by whatever defect or breach of duty underlies her claim. Dalton lost in the lower court because, believing it was unnecessary, she chose not to rely on expert testimony to prove the causation element in her case.

As is generally the case, without expert testimony for an issue that “is not within the understanding of a layperson,” the case would fail. If the circumstantial evidence in the case would require a lay juror to engage in ‘pure speculations’ to find causation, expert evidence is necessary under Indiana law. (Piltch v. Ford Motor Co., 778 F.3d 628 (7th Cir. 2015)).

Dalton and her lawyers argued that the proximate cause of the broken IUD was obvious. The court disagreed. Dalton argued that proximate cause was obvious because it involved uncomplicated facts that lead to only one conclusion. In Dalton’s view, a juror could look at a broken IUD and plainly see that some error of Teva’s caused the break.

“But as the district court held, that is exactly the sort of speculation that is insufficient to sustain a products liability action under the Indiana law (that applies here). Dalton provides no explanation for how a lay juror faced with a broken IUD could identify the cause of the break – maybe the IUD was damaged after coming into the possession of the physician, maybe human error resulted in damage or some other problem during implantation or removal or may there’s another explanation entirely.”

The court of appeals concluded that without expert testimony on causation, the claim failed.  Thus, the district court’s dismissal of the case on summary judgment was affirmed.

Dalton v. Teva North America, 2018 WL 2470634 (7th Cir. 2018).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling pharmaceutical defect lawsuits, product liability cases, wrongful death cases and catastrophic injury lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Maywood, Mundelein, Palos Hills, Worth, Wilmette, Waukegan, Grayslake, Crystal Lake, Cary, Bellwood, Melrose Park, Schaumburg, Northlake, Northfield, Glenview, Chicago (Near South, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greek Town, Ukrainian Village, Logan Square, Portage Park, Albany Park, Rogers Park, Uptown, Andersonville, Bronzeville, Oakland, Kenwood), Lansing, Crestwood and Forest Park, Ill.

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