Maybe you’ve noticed that many of our recent posts have reported good decisions out of Mississippi. Here, here, and here, for example. It’s as if there has been an outburst of judicial common sense in that fair state. But it has not really been such a sudden thing. Looking back over last year, sound reasoning and clear decision-making seem to be commonplace in Mississippi opinions. You just had to look for these things, and you didn’t have to look all that hard.
Consider Mealer v. 3M Co., 2015 WL 9692735 (Miss. March 28, 2015). That opinion came out ten months ago, and is now available on Westlaw. It isn’t a drug or device case, but its holding on the safer alternative requirement is important for any product liability design defect claim.
The product at issue was a one-use, disposable respirator mask. The plaintiff wore one while wielding a jackhammer in a demolition project. The claim was that the mask did not adequately filter out silica particulates, and that the plaintiff ultimately contracted a fatal lung disease as a result. The plaintiff’s experts opined that there was no design change that could make a disposable respirator mask adequate. Instead, the safer, feasible alternatives included such things as elastomeric respirators with cartridge filters and exhalation and inhalation filters with rubber seals. The court held that those weren’t safer alternatives but were, instead, different products altogether. The disposable mask used by the plaintiff was a simple fiber piece that costs about a dollar. By contrast, the elastomeric respirator costs about $25-30. As the court reasoned, “[t]hey are completely different and their utility is completely different, the variation in longevity of the two products is obvious.”