• Defending Products Liability Cases: State or Federal Court?
  • October 6, 2011 | Author: Kevin M. Reynolds
  • Law Firm: Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C. - Des Moines Office
  • In some products cases a lawsuit originally filed in state court can be removed to federal court. This is permitted under 28 USC §1332 where the parties are citizens of different states and there is more than $75,000 in controversy. Many products liability cases are removed from state to federal court for strategic reasons. Federal court can be a better option for a product manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor or retailer, as the standards for the admissibility of expert witness testimony are more stringent in the 8th Circuit and under the U. S. Supreme Court decision of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U. S. 579 (1993). Since products cases often involve complex or technical issues that can develop into a “battle of experts,” if a plaintiff’s expert’s testimony can be excluded from evidence by a strict application of the Daubert(and the recently-amended Federal Rule of Evidence 702) standards, it may be possible to obtain a summary dismissal of the case. The W & E Products Liability Practice Group has extensive federal court experience in products matters, and we have conducted evidentiary Daubert hearings to significantly limit (or exclude altogether) expert testimony in products cases based on junk science.

    Sometimes a plaintiff will join non-diverse parties to the suit as a procedural tactic to prevent the case from being removed from state to federal court by the defendant. However, in some instances the defense can argue “fraudulent joinder,” get the non-diverse party dismissed from the case, and thereafter remove the remaining action to federal court.

    Under 28 USC §1446(b) if a case involves non-diverse parties, but becomes removable within one year after commencement of the action, for example, if a non-diverse party is dismissed from the case, then the matter may be removed to federal court at that time.

    Another potential advantage to federal court for a product manufacturer is that potential jurors are chosen from the entire federal district, which includes several counties and many rural areas of Iowa. This can mean that the jurors chosen the try the case in federal court may be somewhat more conservative, both with respect to liability and damages, than jurors in a state court case venued in Polk County, Iowa, for example, which is an urban area with a population of approximately 500,000. This can be an important factor in products cases, where the injuries or potential damages are often quite severe.