Back in May, 3M won the first MDL bellwether trial in In re: Bair Hugger Forced Air Warning Devices Prods. Liab. Litig. (D. Minn.). The case was Gareis v. 3M Company and at the time of trial, the only claim remaining in the case was for strict liability design defect under South Carolina law. 2018 WL 5307824 at *1 (D. Minn. Oct. 26, 2018). Plaintiff’s negligence, failure to warn, unfair and deceptive trade practices, misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment claims had all been dismissed on summary judgment. Following the defense verdict, plaintiff moved for a new trial based on dangerously thin grounds. The kind of grounds that simply crumble when even the slightest force is brought to bear. And that’s pretty much what happened. Plaintiff’s arguments just fell apart.
Plaintiff’s first argument was that the court improperly excluded evidence that would have helped him prove a design defect. Id. at *2. And the court’s first conclusion was that plaintiff “identif[ied] no prejudice” from the exclusion of the evidence. With no discussion of how the trial result would vary with the admission of the evidence, plaintiff’s motion had to be denied. Id. But the court also went on to explain why the evidence was properly excluded.
Plaintiff wanted to admit evidence of defendant’s “knowledge of risk-utility.” Id. But, “the manufacturer’s mental state is not an element of a strict liability claim for design defect.” Id. Under South Carolina law, the focus in a strict liability “centers upon the alleged defectively designed product,” not the manufacturer’s conduct. Id. Since the evidence wouldn’t go to an element of plaintiff’s claim, it was irrelevant and inadmissible. Plaintiff also argued that certain alternative design evidence was improperly excluded based solely on the argument that he should not have been limited to only alternative designs that “achieve the same function by the same mechanism.” Id. at *3. In other words, plaintiff wanted to introduce “alternatives” that were actually “different” products. That bare bones assertion didn’t move the court to go back and revisit its already correct in limine ruling on the issue.
Plaintiff then moved on to evidence it argued was improperly admitted. Testimony by defense experts that plaintiff alleged was not disclosed in the expert’s Rule 26 disclosures and therefore was inadmissible at trial. But, it you’re going to argue surprise – it really needs to be a surprise. For example, plaintiff argued that defendant’s expert did not disclose that he intended to use a video of a study used to validate his experiment and therefore plaintiff couldn’t effectively cross-examine the witness regarding the details of the experiment. Id. at *4. But, plaintiff saw the video during the MDL Science Day, referenced it in his motion to exclude defendant’s expert, knew that it was available on defendant’s website, and even question the expert about it at his deposition. Id. Not really a sneak attack. The court found no violation of the Rule 26’s disclosure requirements, but even if there had been, “the admission of the video was harmless.” Id. Plaintiff tried to make the same argument about defense expert’s testimony concerning a study cited by plaintiff’s expert. While defendant’s expert didn’t cite the study, his report did opine on the substance of the study. Id. Again, hard to be surprised about a study your own expert relied on. There are a few other similar examples in the opinion.
Finally, plaintiff tried to argue that testimony that never happened should also have been excluded. Go ahead, you can re-read that sentence. It’s accurate. Evidence of FDA clearance of the device was excluded in limine. At trial, defense counsel started to ask a question about the FDA’s examination of the device to which plaintiff’s counsel immediately objected. The objection was sustained. The question was not answered. At sidebar, plaintiff asked that the testimony be stricken. The court denied the request because there was no testimony to strike. Plaintiff argued that the failure to strike testimony that didn’t exist was grounds for a new trial. The court didn’t agree. No new trial. Id. at *6. Bair Hugger score remains 1-0 defendant.