United States: Design And Failure To Warn Claims Survive Twiqbal Challenge In Kentucky

Last Updated: March 3 2017
Article by Michelle Yeary

Kentucky –sure, it gets pretty sticky in the summer, and the bluegrass isn't really blue, and Wildcats fans – well, they're a breed of their own. But give us the bourbon, the chicken, and the Derby and we'll be singing "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Coal Miner's Daughter" with the rest of the Kentucky natives.

DeMoss v. Eli Lilly & Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19142 (W.D. Ken. Feb. 10, 2017) is a bit like the commonwealth it's from — we like some pieces and others we could certainly do without. The case involves an anti-clotting drug which plaintiff alleges led to her husband's fatal internal bleeding. Plaintiff asserted claims for design, manufacturing, and failure to warn defects under both strict liability and negligence; breach of implied warranties; negligent misrepresentation; and violation of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act. Id. at *5. On the defendant's motion to dismiss, all claims except design defect and failure to warn were dismissed without prejudice.

On strict liability, Kentucky has adopted comment k's exception for unavoidably unsafe products such as prescription drugs and devices, but has not adopted it across the board. Rather, applicability of comment k is determined on a case-by-case basis using a risk-utility test. Id. at *6-7. So, at the pleadings stage, the court was unwilling to toss out plaintiff's strict liability claim as a matter of law finding the inquiry too fact dependent. Id. at *8. This approach kicks a comment k analysis to the summary judgment stage.

Defendant also argued that plaintiff's pleading of strict liability design defect was insufficient under TwIqbal. The court disagreed finding that plaintiff's allegation that the drug carried "an unreasonably high bleeding risk without any reversal agent" and that plaintiff's husband died as a result of that injury, was more than just regurgitating the basic elements of a design defect claim. Id. at *9. And on the issue of pleading an alternative design, the court allows a different drug to serve as the alternative design. Id. There isn't much discussion of this and so we hope it's something that can be more fully explored later in the case – after all, a different drug is a different drug, not an alternative design for the drug at issue. The court similarly found that plaintiff had pleaded enough for her failure to warn claim to survive. Id. at *12. In addition to alleging a failure to adequately warn about the increased risk of bleeding, plaintiff also alleged a failure to adequately test which the court found was not an independent cause of action, but was subsumed in the failure to warn claim. Id. at *15. Based on very similar reasoning, the court allowed both negligent design defect and negligent failure to warn to stand as well. Id. at *13-14.

Strict liability and negligent manufacturing defect claims, however, were both dismissed. Unlike with design defect and failure to warn, plaintiff's manufacturing defect claims were nothing more than a recitation of the elements of the claim with no specificity or factual support. Id. at *10-11. The complaint fails to allege how the drug taken by plaintiff's husband deviated from the defendant's specifications or standard processes or how any such failure caused her husband's injury. Id. at *11; *13-14 (negligent manufacturing claim dismissed).

Next the court dismissed plaintiff's breach of implied warranty claim for lack of privity. Id. at *15-16. The same lack of privity was the downfall for plaintiff's claim for violation of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act ("KCPA"). Id. at *21. The KCPA, however, has a privity exception when a plaintiff alleges express representations were made. Plaintiff here tried to claim her failure to warn allegations demonstrated express representations that would allow her to fall within the exception. But those allegations did not rise to the level of being "affirmations of fact or promise" that qualify as express representations, so the claim was dismissed. Id. at *23.

On negligent misrepresentation, while plaintiff attempted to argue that she had made out the who, what, where, when and why to satisfy even the heightened pleading standards of Federal Rule 9(b), all of those allegations were about concealing or omitting facts. Under Kentucky law, a claim for negligent misrepresentation "requires an affirmative false statement; a mere omission will not do." Id. at *20. Essentially, plaintiff wasn't allowed to re-package her failure to warn claim as an additional negligent misrepresentation claim.

While it's not a slam dunk (something Wildcats fans are seeing a lot of recently), it's a much smaller complaint that advances to the next round. Not perfect, but good enough for now.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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