Walls v. Armour Pharmaceutical Co.

Decision Date19 July 1993
Docket NumberNo. 89-1705-CIV-T-23B.,89-1705-CIV-T-23B.
PartiesBrenda Mills WALLS, as co-personal representative for the Estate of Jason Christopher, Deceased, Plaintiff, v. ARMOUR PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

Jere Martin Fishback, Kleinfeld & Fishback, St. Petersburg, FL, for plaintiff.

Edward W. Gerecke, Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler, Tampa, FL, Douglas F. Fuson, Sidley & Austin, Chicago, IL, for defendant.

OPINION RE ARMOUR'S RULE 50 MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
                                                   TABLE OF CONTENTS
                                                                                                     Page
                    I. Standard for Rule 50 Motions ................................................ 1470
                   II. Armour's Statute-of-Limitation Defense ...................................... 1470
                       A. The Applicable Statute of Limitation ..................................... 1472
                       B. Application of the Products Liability Statute of Limitation .............. 1474
                          1. Relevant Case Law ..................................................... 1474
                          2. Discussion ............................................................ 1476
                  III. Armour's "Learned Intermediary" Defense to Proximate Cause .................. 1481
                       A. Relevant Law ............................................................. 1482
                          1. Federal Law Applicable to Blood Products .............................. 1482
                          2. Florida Case Law on the "Learned Intermediary" Doctrine ............... 1483
                       B. The Relationship of the "Learned Intermediary" Doctrine and the Nature of
                            Plaintiff's Claim ...................................................... 1484
                       C. Evidence Regarding Prescribing Physician's Alleged Independent Knowledge
                            of the Risk ............................................................ 1487
                       D. Discussion ............................................................... 1491
                   IV. Plaintiff's "But For" Evidence and "Cause-in-Fact" Evidence ................. 1494
                       A. Relevant Case Law ........................................................ 1494
                       B. Evidence ................................................................. 1496
                       C. Discussion ............................................................... 1501
                    V. Conclusion .................................................................. 1504
                
OPINION

HILLMAN, Senior District Judge, Sitting by Designation.

This is a wrongful death diversity action brought by Brenda Mills Walls as co-personal representative of the Estate of Jason Christopher, deceased. Brenda Mills Walls is the natural mother of Jason Christopher ("Jason"), who died on February 2, 1992. Defendant is Armour Pharmaceutical Company ("Armour"), a Delaware corporation doing business in the State of Florida. During the years 1982-1985, among other products, Armour manufactured and sold under various brand names a plasma product generically known as Factor VIII concentrate.

During his entire life, Jason suffered from classic hemophilia, Type A, a hereditary bleeding disorder. Treatment required transfusions of Factor VIII concentrate. It is claimed that between January 30, 1983, and May 24, 1985, Jason used and consumed Factor VIII concentrate manufactured by Armour. As a result, plaintiff claims that Jason was infected with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), which developed into the condition known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). As a result of complications caused by AIDS, Jason died on February 2, 1992, at the age of eleven.

As filed on December 27, 1989, this action was originally brought by Steven R. Christopher, Jason's father, on Jason's behalf as a personal injury action. While this action was pending, the child died. Under Florida law, Jason's personal injury claims were extinguished by his death. Fla.Stat. § 768.20. On April 29, 1992, Jason's mother, Brenda Mills Walls, on behalf of the estate, filed an amended complaint for damages and demand for jury trial. The amended complaint reflected Jason's death and asserted a wrongful death action under the Florida Wrongful Death Act, Fla.Stat. § 768.16-27.

Following a six-day trial, the jury awarded total damages of $2,007,256.13. In response to special interrogatories, the jury unanimously found, from the greater weight of the evidence, the following facts: 1) that Jason Christopher was infected with the AIDS virus from Factor VIII concentrate produced and sold by Armour Pharmaceutical Corporation ("Armour"), Verdict, Question # 1; 2) that Armour was negligent in failing to warn prescribing physicians in a timely or an effective manner of a potential AIDS risk associated with its Factor VIII concentrate product, Verdict, Question # 2; and 3) that Armour's negligence was a proximate cause of Jason Christopher's death, Verdict, Question # 3. The jury awarded damages of $1 million to Brenda Mills Walls, Jason's mother; damages of $1 million to Steven R. Christopher, Jason's father; and damages to Jason's estate of $7,256.13, for funeral expenses, Verdict, Question # 4). In addition, the jury found, from the greater weight of the evidence, that Jason's parents, Steven R. Christopher and Brenda Mills Walls, did not know or should not have known before December 27, 1985, 1) that Jason was infected with the AIDS virus, Verdict, Question # 5; or 2) that there was a potential causal connection between Jason's HIV-infection and his use of Factor VIII concentrate, Verdict, Question # 6.

Presently before the court is Armour's timely renewed Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law. In the alternative, Armour has also filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. At the close of plaintiff's case on January 15, 1993, Armour presented a motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to R. 50(a) on the following grounds: first, that the action was time-barred, and second, that plaintiff had failed to present legally sufficient evidence as to either proximate cause or causation in fact. The court denied Armour's motion in a bench ruling on January 19, 1993. Armour renewed its motion at the close of all the evidence on January 20, 1993, pursuant to Rule 50(b). The court again denied Armour's motion, and submitted the case to the jury. Armour here renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law.

I. Standard for Rule 50 Motions

Under Rule 50, a court should grant judgment as a matter of law "if, under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Eleventh Circuit has set forth the standard for district courts to apply in ruling upon Rule 50 motions as follows.

District courts should "consider all of the evidence — not just that evidence which supports the non-mover's case — but in the light and with all reasonable inferences most favorable to the party opposed to the motion." Verbraeken v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 881 F.2d 1041, 1045 (11th Cir.1989) (quoting Boeing Co. v. Shipman, 411 F.2d 365, 374 (5th Cir.1969) (en banc)), cert. dismissed, 493 U.S. 1064, 110 S.Ct. 884, 107 L.Ed.2d 1012 (1990). If the facts and inferences "point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party" that the court believes that reasonable people "could not arrive at a contrary verdict," it is proper to grant such motions. However, if there is "substantial evidence" opposed to the motions, that is, "evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fairminded" people "in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions," such motions should be denied. Verbraeken, 881 F.2d at 1045 (quoting Boeing, 411 F.2d at 375).

On the other hand, determining credibility remains "a matter solely for the jury." Therrell v. Georgia Marble Holdings Corp., 960 F.2d 1555, 1567 (11th Cir.1992). "`It is the function of the jury as the traditional finder of the facts, and not the Court, to weigh conflicting evidence and inferences, and determine the credibility of witnesses.'" Id. (quoting Boeing, 411 F.2d at 375).

II. Armour's Statute-of-Limitation Defense

Florida has for many years recognized a products liability cause of action called "negligent failure to warn." Tampa Drug Co. v. Wait, 103 So.2d 603 (Fla.1958). The distinction between this cause of action and one for strict liability against products manufacturers has repeatedly been recognized by Florida's courts. See, e.g., Stanley Industries, Inc., v. W.M. Barr & Co., 784 F.Supp. 1570 (S.D.Fla.1992); High v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 610 So.2d 1259 (Fla.1992); Advance Chemical Co. v. Harter, 478 So.2d 444 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985), review denied, 488 So.2d 829 (Fla.1986); Moorman v. American Safety Equipment, 594 So.2d 795 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992), review denied, 606 So.2d 1164 (Fla.1992).1

However, Armour claims that the applicable statute of limitation in this action is not Florida's four-year products liability statute of limitation, Fla.Stat. § 95.11(3)(e), but is instead Florida's four-year negligence statute of limitation, Fla.Stat. § 95.11(3)(a). Armour reaches this conclusion because it claims that Florida's "blood-shield" statute, Fla.Stat. § 672.316(5), precludes strict products liability and warranty actions relating to the processing and distribution of blood derivatives. If Florida's negligence statute of limitation applied to this action, Armour claims that the action is time-barred.

In a bench ruling on January 19, 1993, the court ruled that Florida's four-year products liability statute of limitation applied to the failure-to-warn action concerning Armour's Factor VIII concentrate filed on Jason's behalf by his father. In addition, the court ruled that this cause of action was not time-barred. Armour claims that these rulings were in error. Armour...

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19 cases
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    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
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2 books & journal articles
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