Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Plaintiffs, three women who suffered persistent hair loss after chemotherapy treatments, sued as a part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) against distributors of the drug Taxotere (docetaxel) for permanent chemotherapy-induced hair loss, asserting a failure-to-warn claim.Louisiana law provides a one-year liberative prescription period for products-liability cases. Furthermore, under Louisiana law, there is a firmly rooted equitable-tolling doctrine known as contra non valentem agere non currit praescriptio, which means "[n]o prescription runs against a person unable to bring an action."The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Sanofi, agreeing with the district court that plaintiffs' claims are facially prescribed. The court interpreted Louisiana law to require that once hair loss persisted after six months, contra non valentem tolled the prescription period until the point when a prospective plaintiff through the exercise of reasonable diligence should have "considered [Taxotere] as a potential root cause of" her injury. In this case, the court concluded that plaintiffs did not act reasonably in light of their injuries and their causes of action were reasonably knowable in excess of one year prior to their filing suit. Therefore, Louisiana's equitable tolling doctrine of contra non valentem did not save plaintiffs' claims. View "Thibodeaux v. Sanofi U.S. Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's failure-to-warn claim asserted against the manufacturers of Taxotere, a chemotherapy medication. Plaintiff argues that Taxotere's manufacturers failed to provide an adequate warning of potentially permanent hair loss, which caused her injuries.The court concluded that, under Louisiana law, plaintiff cannot establish causation where, on this record, it is beyond any genuine dispute that a warning of the risk of permanent hair loss—as opposed to temporary hair loss—would not have affected the prescribing physician's decision to prescribe Taxotere. Therefore, plaintiff's claim fails as a matter of law. View "Phillips v. Sanofi U.S. Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2015, a solder stationed at Fort Hood fatally shot his neighbors, his wife, and himself. The victims' families filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the district court entered final judgment in favor of the United States, dismissing the case with prejudice.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, concluding that the district court did not commit clear error in finding that the harm to the victims was not foreseeable to the Army. The court explained that, under Texas law, a plaintiff must show both forseeability and cause in fact to establish proximate causation. In this case, there were no red flags regarding the soldier's behavior preceding the shootings; the evidence at trial showed that the Army was getting mixed messages about who was the victim of the altercation between the solider and his wife twelve days earlier; and the murders and shootings committed by the solider could not have been reasonably anticipated by the Army. The district court also found that the soldier's killings were "a superseding, unforeseeable event that could not have been anticipated by the Army based on the information they had during that 12-day period" between the February 9 altercation and the February 22 killings. The court also concluded that substantial evidence supported the district court's forseeability finding, and the district court did not commit clear error in making its finding. View "Kristensen v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted panel rehearing; denied rehearing en banc; withdrew its prior opinion; and substituted the following opinion.Frank Williams, Jr. filed suit in Louisiana state court against his former employer, Lockheed Martin, seeking to recover damages for asbestos-related injuries. After Williams passed away, his children were substituted as plaintiffs. Lockheed Martin removed the case under federal officer removal jurisdiction and the district court granted summary judgment for Lockheed Martin, issuing sanctions against plaintiffs' counsel for improper ex parte communications.The court affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court properly considered the full state-court record as it existed at the time of removal and Lockheed Martin has met the requirements for federal officer removal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1442(a)(2)(1). In this case, Lockheed Martin alleged the requisite nexus and has stated sufficient facts to make out a colorable Boyle defense. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion with respect to any of the challenged discovery orders.The court applied Louisiana law and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lockheed Martin on plaintiffs' survival and wrongful death claims. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err by imposing sanctions on plaintiffs' attorney and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding $10,000 in attorney's fees. View "Williams v. Lockheed Martin Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion.After plaintiff was injured when a manlift struck her outside Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, a jury found Jazz Casino negligent, assigning it 49% of the fault. Plaintiff was awarded, among other jury awards, $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering. The Casino appealed.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the finding of negligence under a negligent hiring theory, operational control theory, and authorization of unsafe work practices theory presented to jurors. The court also held that none of the objected-to evidence was erroneously admitted at trial. However, the court held that the jury's $1,000,000 award for future pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring, and disfigurement was excessive. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the Casino's motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial, vacated the award for future pain and suffering, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Echeverry v. Jazz Casino Co., LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Patricia Guadalupe Garcia Cervantes, a Mexican citizen who was attempting to enter the United States illegally by swimming across the Brownsville Ship Channel, was struck and killed by a Coast Guard vessel patrolling the area. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of his and Cervantes' daughter, filed suit alleging negligence and wrongful death claims against the United States, as well as products liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of the vessel and its engines, Safe Boats and Mercury Marine.After determining that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on admiralty, the Fifth Circuit concluded that, notwithstanding plaintiff's own lack of standing, he may still maintain claims as next-of-friend for his daughter. Reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment and its duty determination de novo, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court held that the negligence claim failed because the United States owed no duty to Cervantes; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's defective design claims against Safe Boats and Mercury Marine where Cervantes lacked standing to bring those claims under Section 402A of the Second Restatement in regard to maritime products liability claims; even assuming plaintiff could bring these products liability claims, plaintiff failed to show that the asserted defective products proximately caused Cervantes' death; plaintiff's failure-to-warn claims were also properly dismissed; and the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claims after dismissing all the underlying tort claims. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and affirmed the dismissal. View "Ortega Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured when a manlift struck her outside Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, a jury found Jazz Casino negligent, assigning it 49% of the fault. Plaintiff was awarded, among other jury awards, $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering. The Casino appealed.The Fifth Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support the negligent-hiring claim; the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find the Casino liable for plaintiff's injury under an operational-control theory; and the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the Casino had authorized unsafe work practices. The court also held that none of the objected-to evidence was erroneously admitted at trial. However, the court held that the jury's $1,000,000 award for future pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring, and disfigurement was excessive. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Casino's motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial; vacated the award for future pain and suffering; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Echeverry v. Jazz Casino Co., LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff was hired by Kirby to pilot a seagoing vessel. While plaintiff was aboard the vessel, he injured his foot when he tripped over a stair inside a hatch door. Plaintiff filed suit against Kirby for lost wages and the district court ultimately determined that Kirby was liable to plaintiff on his claim of Sieracki seaworthiness and that Kirby was alternatively liable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The district court awarded plaintiff $11,695,136.00 in damages.The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiff is not an employee of Riben Marine and thus is not eligible to sue under section 905(b) of the LHWCA; the district court did not clearly err in concluding that the vessel was unseaworthy; plaintiff was not contributorily negligent for wearing sunglasses on the vessel and the district court did not make insufficient factual findings on the contributory negligence question; assuming arguendo that the district court erroneously admitted evidence of a subsequent remedial measure, Kirby has not demonstrated that the error affected its substantial rights; and the district court did not err in assessing plaintiff's lost future earnings. View "Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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After he sustained an ankle injury by stepping on a chafed stern line while he was a seaman aboard a tugboat owned by Kirby, plaintiff filed a Jones Act negligence claim against Kirby. The district court concluded that Kirby was negligent, based on an order by its vessel's captain to replace the stern line in unfavorable weather. Furthermore, plaintiff was contributorily negligent for placing the removed stern line near him and subsequently stepping on it while carrying out that order, reducing his damages award in proportion to his fault.The Fifth Circuit concluded that changing out the chafed line fell within the class of ordinary "heavy lifting" plaintiff performed routinely, and thus the district court was not precluded, as a matter of law, from reducing his award proportional to his fault. The court explained that the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiff was negligent in stepping on the chafed line, but the district court did err in finding him negligent for failing to move it. In this case, Kirby did not present any evidence showing that plaintiff placed the chafed line on the deck in an imprudent manner and the tugboat's captain, who gave plaintiff the order, watched the entire procedure, testifying that there were no irregularities in how the task was performed. Therefore, in the absence of any evidence, the district court's finding of fifty percent negligence based on plaintiff's placement of the chafed stern line is clearly erroneous. Finally, the court upheld the general damages award and concluded that the district court did not clearly err in awarding $60,000. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Knight v. Kirby Offshore Marine Pacific, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the unions she was affiliated with, as well as a maritime association, for sexual harassment under federal employment law, arguing that defendant's conduct created a hostile work environment. Plaintiff also filed suit against defendant himself for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) under Texas state law. The district court entered a default judgment in plaintiff's favor on the IIED claim and plaintiff ultimately prevailed at trial against the other defendants.The Fifth Circuit first held that a party's failure to file a motion to set aside a default judgment in the district court does not prevent the party from appealing that judgment to the court. On the merits, the court vacated the default judgment on the IIED claim, concluding that plaintiff could not pursue an IIED against defendant in light of the other statutory remedies available to plaintiff. The court explained that a plaintiff generally cannot sustain an IIED claim if the plaintiff could have brought a sexual harassment claim premised on the same facts. In this case, the gravamen of plaintiff's IIED claim is for sexual harassment; plaintiff used defendant's conduct as a basis for her Title VII claims against the other defendants; plaintiff ultimately prevailed on those claims against the union; and the availability of those statutory remedies on the same facts forecloses her IIED claims against defendant. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Stelly v. Duriso" on Justia Law