Big Win For Injured Plaintiffs In Pennsylvania Supreme Court Personal Jurisdiction Opinion
On October 21, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court marked another victory for injured plaintiffs on the issue of personal jurisdiction in its 6-1 opinion in Hammons v. Ethicon, 7-EAP-2019. In Hammons, the plaintiff, an Indiana resident, was implanted with the Prolift Kit, which is a transvaginal mesh device manufactured by Ethicon, for treatment of her pelvic organ prolapse. Ms. Hammons brought suit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against three New Jersey companies (Ethicon, J&J, and Gynecare) that were responsible for developing and selling the device, as well as a Pennsylvania company (Secant) that played a role in manufacturing the polypropylene mesh found in the product. Following a three week trial in December 2015, a jury returned a $12 million verdict for Ms. Hammons ($5 million in compensatory and $7 million in punitive damages). The defendants appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Among other issues raised on appeal, the defendants claimed that the case should never have proceeded in Pennsylvania in the first place, as personal jurisdiction was lacking. Specifically, the defendants argued that the Pennsylvania courts had no jurisdiction over claims brought by Ms. Hammons--an out-of-state resident who used the product and was injured out of state--against three out-of-state companies and that whatever connection existed between those companies and Bucks County-based Secant was insufficient to create personal jurisdiction where it was otherwise lacking. In June 2018, the Superior Court rejected the defendants' jurisdictional challenge and affirmed the verdict. See Hammons v. Ethicon, et al., 190 A.3d 1248 (Pa. Super. 2018). The defendants appealed again, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has affirmed again, finding, in relevant part: "Ethicon was involved in the production of the mesh by Secant in Pennsylvania, and Ms. Hammons claimed her injuries resulted from that mesh. Thus, there is a direct connection between Ms. Hammons’ cause of action and Ethicon’s actions in Pennsylvania." The court held that the "direct connection" between Ethicon and Secant was sufficient to confer specific personal jurisdiction under the facts of the case.