Law School Case Brief
Spence v. Miles Labs. - 810 F. Supp. 952 (E.D. Tenn. 1992)
The statute of repose applicable to products liability cases,Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-103(a) provides: Any action against a manufacturer or seller of a product for injury to person or property caused by its defective or unreasonably dangerous condition must be brought within the period fixed by Tenn Code Ann. §§ 28-3-104, 28-3-105,28-3-202 and 47-2-725, but notwithstanding any exceptions to these provisions it must be brought within six (6) years of the date of injury, in any event, the action must be brought within ten (10) years from the date of which the product was first purchased for use or consumption, or within one (1) year after the expiration of the anticipated life of the product, whichever is shorter, except in the case of injury to minors whose action must be brought within a period of one (1) year after attaining the age of majority, whichever occurs sooner.
Wynne Spence was born with hemophilia, an inherited disorder in which the hemophiliac's own blood lacks certain key "clotting factors" which are essential to normal blood clotting. Persons with hemophilia are subject to episodes of uncontrolled bleeding which can be fatal. KONYNE-HT was a product manufactured and distributed by Cutter Laboratories which was a division of Miles. Miles contended that its heat treating process inactivated any HIV in the plasma obtained from blood donors which could cause AIDS. In July and August 1986, Wynne Spence was treated with KONYNE-HT as prescribed by his family physician, Vincent Haren, M.D. The usual shelf life or date of expiration of KONYNE-HT in 1985 and 1986 was two years from the date of manufacture. The expiration date on KONYNE-HT Lot 20P010 was June 5, 1987. Wynne Spence was diagnosed as suffering from AIDS on March 22, 1990, after being tested for AIDS for the first time. Wynne Spence and Jennifer Spence filed suit against Miles alleging that a person who contracts AIDS from any untested blood or blood product can recover damages from the supplying facility. At trial, Dr. Haren rendered his expert medical opinion that Mr. Spence became infected with the AIDS virus in July and August 1986 when Mr. Spence was treated with KONYNE-HT which was manufactured by Miles using plasma from donors who had not been tested or screened for the AIDS virus. Miles disputed that KONYNE-HT caused Mr. Spence to contract AIDS. Miles further asserted that its heat treatment process was completely effective for inactivating the AIDS virus and Mr. Spence was infected with the AIDS virus prior to 1986. The court denied Miles' motion for summary judgment and Miles filed a motion to reconsider in which it raised the argument that the action was time-barred under the products liability statute of repose.
Was the manufacturer Miles entitled to summary judgment?
On the motion to reconsider, the court granted Miles’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. The court held that plaintiffs' claim was time-barred under the products liability statute of repose, and that plaintiff had one year from June 5, 1987, the expiration date of the product lot in question, within which to timely file a products liability action against Miles. The court concluded that Miles should be permitted to raise the affirmative defense of the products liability statute of repose even though it was not specifically mentioned in the final pretrial order. Miles did generally assert the defense that the complaint was time-barred by the applicable statute of repose in its answer. Once the court ruled that the case was not a medical malpractice action, Miles did file its motion asserting the products liability statute of repose prior to commencement of trial. Although Miles should have raised the products liability statute of repose both in its first motion for summary judgment and the final pretrial order, it would be manifestly unjust under the facts and circumstances to rule that Miles waived the defense and was strictly bound by the final pretrial order.
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