United States: Court Chooses New Hampshire Product Liability Law: Not-So-Granite Principles

Last Updated: October 1 2019
Article by Stephen J. McConnell

This post is from the Reed Smith side of the blog only.

Yesterday was National Punctuation Day; it is a good time to administer a semi-colonic to turgid prose. Today we apply an exclamation mark to our unhappiness with judges whose choice of law principles seem not so, er, principled.

Last Thursday, Bexis commented on the New Hampshire federal judge in the Atrium litigation who invariably applies New Hampshire law no matter what. We offer a few more words on In Barron v. Atrium Med. Corp., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151042 (D. N.H. Sept. 5, 2019), in which the plaintiffs sued three related companies under various product liability and warranty theories, alleging injuries from implanted hernia mesh. The surgical procedure took place in Pennsylvania. The first named defendant, Atrium, was located in New Hampshire, where the lawsuit was pending, while the other two defendants were in New Jersey and Sweden.

The defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint. The defendants argued that Pennsylvania law governed the claims, and that those claims flunked Pennsylvania law. The plaintiffs responded that it was too soon to decide choice of law, but that if a choice had to be made at this point, then New Hampshire law should prevail.

(A question mark popped up in a thought bubble over our head when we saw a defendant plump for product liability law. Can New Hampshire law really be that bad? And then we remembered that the Bartlett case came out of New Hampshire.)

In any case, this much is clear: New Hampshire choice of law principles govern. As with many states, the first question is whether an actual conflict exists. If there is no conflict, why burn up calories worrying over choice of law? Here, there is a very real conflict on the strict liability claim, because Pennsylvania does not smile upon strict liability design defect claims against medical devices, whereas New Hampshire apparently says Live Free and Sue. The other claims are treated similarly in the Keystone and Granite states, so the New Hampshire federal judge would apply New Hampshire law to them. So far so good. But now the New Hampshire federal judge needed to decide whether to apply New Hampshire or Pennsylvania law to the strict liability claim. Do you follow us so far? Do you have a suspicion where this is going?

New Hampshire employs a five factor test for choice of law:

1. predictability of results;

2. maintenance of reasonable orderliness and and good relationship among the states in our federal system;

3. simplification of the judicial task;

4. advancement by the court of its own state's governmental interests rather than those of other states; and

5. The court's preference for what it regards as the sounder rule of law.

Whenever we see a multi-part test, we prepare ourselves for an outcome-driven exercise in rationalization. Here we go. The Barron court concluded that the first three factors "have little or no relevance in this case." Hmmm. We are skeptical. The court admits that it is more familiar with New Hampshire law, but says it could just as easily apply Pennsylvania law. Sure. But it won't. By the way, don't the second and fourth factors seem at least slightly in conflict? And if the court is the tiniest bit pro-plaintiff or anti-dismissal, don't the fourth and fifth factors potentially swallow up everything else and make inevitable a preference for a local pro-plaintiff rule every time?

That is what happened here. In contrast to Pennsylvania's nuanced approach to strict liability claims versus medical devices, the Barron judge tells us that New Hampshire believes that "if today's products are capable of causing illness or physical injury, the risk of liability is best borne by the companies that profited from their sale, rather than by the unfortunate individual consumers." To our graying noggin, this formulation sounds less like New Hampshire in 2019 and more like California (courtesy of Justice Traynor) in the 1950s. We would have thought that New Hampshire, home of flinty New Englanders steeped in self-reliance, might not so whole-heartedly embrace the notion of wealth redistribution and social insurance. Silly us.

The New Hampshire federal judge ends up deciding – surprise! – that New Hampshire product liability law is better (i.e., more anti-corporate) than Pennsylvania law and, therefore, New Hampshire law carries the day. The court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss.

A New Hampshire federal judge preferred New Hampshire law. In the words of one-time New Hampshire resident Robert Frost, "and that has made all the difference."

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

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions