We have an adorable, pigtailed, toddler grand-niece. We play a game with her that involves placing one building block on the table and asking her how many blocks there are. She answers, “One.” We take that block away and replace it with another. Again, the answer is “one.” Then we place both blocks on the table and ask, “How much is one plus one?” As brilliant as she is beautiful, she answers, “Two!” Simple, right? But those of us who practice in the mass tort space are far too accustomed to reading opinions laying out the building blocks of an obvious holding then failing to conclude that one plus one equals two.
Not so the lovely opinion on which we report today. In Young v. Mentor Worldwide LLC, 2018 WL 2054591, — F. Supp. 3d — (E.D. Ark. May 1, 2018), the plaintiff was implanted with the defendant’s sub-urethral sling in 2003 to address her stress urinary incontinence. In two subsequent surgeries, in 2006 and 2008, portions of the sling were removed. In 2013, more than five years after the last revision surgery, the plaintiff filed suit, asserting all of the usual claims and alleging permanent injury from the defendant’s product.
Because Arkansas law, which governs the plaintiff’s claims, imposes a three-year statute of limitations on product liability lawsuits, the defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff’s claims were time-barred. The court denied the motion, finding a question of fact as to when the plaintiff’s cause of action accrued under the applicable discovery rule.
Motion to Bifurcate Trial
Flash forward to the eve of trial. Arguing that resolution of the statute of limitations defense would require only a few witnesses and would likely take only two days, the defendant asked the court to bifurcate the proceedings in a novel manner, holding a preliminary trial on the statute of limitations and moving on to a full trial on the merits of the plaintiff’s claims only if necessary. The plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that resolution of the statute of limitations issue would require admission of evidence of the defendant’s alleged fraudulent concealment and that a single jury should resolve all of the issues at the same time.
The court disagreed, holding,
Regardless of whether the [plaintiff is] entitled to pursue a fraudulent concealment claim, [the defendant’s] statute of limitations defense is potentially dispositive, and preliminary trial will not consume the time and expense necessary for a trial on the merits. The Court finds that a separate, initial trial on the statute of limitations question is especially warranted in this case, as it will promote judicial economy, avoid confusion of the issues, and prevent possible undue prejudice.
Young, 2018 WL 2054591 at *2.
Motions to Exclude Expert Testimony
The defendant also moved to exclude the testimony of two of the plaintiff’s experts, a biomedical engineer and a pathologist.
The biomedical engineer sought to testify about the mechanical structure of the defendant’s product “and to offer his opinion that the design and testing of [the product] was inadequate, that the product was defective for its intended use, and that [the defendant] failed to warn about the significant risk of complications and adverse events from the use of the product.” Id. at *3. The defendant moved to exclude the expert’s testimony about the adequacy of the warnings, arguing that the expert was not qualified to offer such opinions. The court agreed, holding, “The record is void of information indicating that [the expert’s] expertise in the area of biomedical engineering and product design qualifies him to opine as to the adequacy of warnings at issue or that his opinion on this ultimate issue of fact would be helpful to the jury.” Id.
The expert’s report also included statements to the effect that the defendant was “fully aware” of a high rate of complications associated with the product. The defendant moved to exclude these statements on the ground that they were inadmissible expressions of “corporate intent and legal conclusions.” Again, the court agreed, holding, “The Court finds that a jury is capable of making its own determinations as to [the defendant’s] intent, motive, or state of mind, and that [the expert’s] opinion on these subjects does not meet the helpfulness criteria of Rule 702.” Id. (citation omitted).
The pathologist’s report stated that his general causation opinions were “based on his review of over 300 explanted mesh samples, which include[d] hernia meshes, pelvic organ prolapse meshes, and slings used to treat urinary incontinence.” Id. at *4. He acknowledged that only ten of the 300 samples he examined were manufactured by the defendant, and those were samples he received from plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The defendant argued that the expert’s opinions about other types of mesh and other manufacturers’ products were irrelevant and unreliable. In deposition, the expert testified that “all of this background” was necessary to “interpret accurately case-specific material.” The court disagreed, holding, “The Court finds that neither [the expert’s ] explanation nor [the plaintiff’s] arguments demonstrate that information about various types of polypropylene mesh products . . . is relevant in this case, which deals with a specific mesh product, used for a specific purpose.” Id. Further, the expert “admit[ted] that he [had] no knowledge as to how the mesh implants he has examined were selected, thus there is no assurance that they were randomly selected and no way of projecting the potential rate of error.” Id. The court concluded, “After careful review, the Court cannot find that [the expert’s] proposed opinion testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and [the defendant’s] motion to exclude will be granted.
We love this opinion – logical, correct, and elegant in its simplicity. We hope that others follow suit, and we will keep you posted.