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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 11, 2019

Wrongly arrested woman’s claims against drug-test kit maker deemed inadequate

By Georgia D. Koutouzos, J.D.

Design/manufacturing defect and failure to warn claims against the manufacturer of a field test whose false-positive result for methamphetamines resulted in a Georgia woman’s arrest and three-month imprisonment were dismissed by a federal court in that state as insufficient and conclusory.

A woman’s complaint against the company that makes a methamphetamine field test kit used by the Georgia law enforcement personnel who had charged and jailed her based on the kit’s erroneous result failed to state claims upon which relief could be granted, a Georgia federal court determined. The woman’s design defect claim did not include a reasonable alternative design and her inadequate warning claim contained only conclusory allegations, the court advised, granting the kit maker’s motion to dismiss (Fincher v. Monroe County Board of Commissioners, February 8, 2019, Self, T.).

A woman who had spent 94 days in jail after having been arrested for allegedly trafficking methamphetamines when a field test used to test for the drugs returned a false-positive result filed suit against the test’s manufacturer, Sirchie Acquisition Company, LLC, as well as the county officials involved in her arrest. She asserted civil rights violations against the county and causes of action against Sirchie for product liability design defect, manufacturing defect, and inadequate warning, contending that she was entitled to damages for the allegedly negligent design, manufacture, and distribution of the NARK II Presumptive Drug Test Kit that had been used and relied upon by the deputies who arrested her. The kit maker moved to dismiss her lawsuit for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

Design/manufacturing defect. Sirchie argued that in order to succeed on a design defect claim, a plaintiff must set forth evidence of a reasonable alternative design that should have been adopted by the manufacturer instead of the allegedly defective design. The manufacturer asserted that the woman failed to provide evidence of a reasonable alternative design for the drug test kit, and, thus, failed to state a proper design defect claim. Agreeing with the manufacturer, the court noted that the essence of the complaint was that the company knew or should have known that its test could lead to an innocent person being arrested for a drug violation based on a false positive, but that nowhere in the complaint had the plaintiff set forth any reasonable alternative design.

In addition, although the wrongly arrested woman included two alternative designs in her response to the kit maker’s dismissal motion, those alternatives did not appear in her amended complaint and, as such, could not be considered in the evaluation of the complaint’s adequacy. Furthermore, aside from her use of the word "manufacturing," the woman’s amended complaint contained no language consistent with a manufacturing defect claim. Therefore, those claims were dismissed.

Failure to warn/inadequate warning. Also dismissed was the woman’s inadequate warning claim, which reasonably could be read as asserting a failure to warn cause of action as well. In that regard, however, the amended complaint made only conclusory allegations with respect to both of those claims and provided nothing by way of factual support to make the connection as to how the substance of the purported warning failed, was otherwise improper, or that the product’s packaging contained no warning at all.

Punitive damages/attorney fees. Because the wrongly arrested woman failed to state a substantive claim against Sirchie in her amended complaint, she did not provide a basis on which to authorize an award of attorney fees against the kit manufacturer. Likewise, because a punitive damages claim is contingent on the success of the underlying tort claim and the woman’s tort claims did not survive the manufacturer’s dismissal motion, her punitive damages claim equally failed.

The case is No. 5:18-cv-00424-TES.

Attorneys: James Maxwell Freeman (James M. Freeman, PC) for Dasha Fincher. Frances Clay (Chambless, Higdon, Richardson, Katz & Griggs, LLP) for Monroe County Board of Commissioners. James W. Hardee (Fain, Major & Brennan, P.C.) for Sirchie Acquisition Co., LLC.

Companies: Monroe County Board of Commissioners; Sirchie Acquisition Co., LLC

MainStory: TopStory WarningsNews DamagesNews DesignManufacturingNews IndustrialCommercialEquipNews GeorgiaNews

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