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New York High Court Rejects Medical Monitoring Claims Absent Injury

Striking a blow to toxic tort plaintiffs seeking to recover personal injury damages in the absence of physical injury, New York’s highest court ruled on December 17 that medical monitoring is not a separate cause of action under New York law. See Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., No. 227, 2013 N.Y. Slip. Op. 8372 (N.Y. Dec. 17, 2013). Three Plaintiffs filed suit in the Eastern District of New York on behalf of all New York State residents age 50 and older who had smoked Marlboro cigarettes for 20 “pack-years” (the equivalent of a pack a day for 20 years) or more, but who were not presently suffering from lung cancer. See Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., No. 06-224, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12168, at *1-2 (E.D. N.Y. Feb. 11, 2010).

The claims originally included negligence, strict liability, and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, but after the district court granted partial summary judgment to Defendants on statute of limitations grounds, Plaintiffs sought to add a separate equitable cause of action for medical monitoring. Caronia, 2013 N.Y. Slip. Op. 8372, at 2-3. The district court dismissed the remaining claims due to pleading deficiencies. On appeal, the Second Circuit certified two questions to the New York Court of Appeals to determine whether New York would recognize an independent equitable cause of action for medical monitoring, and if so, what the corresponding elements, statute of limitations, and accrual date would be. Id. at 4.

The Court of Appeals held that without a physical injury, an increased risk of future harm does not suffice to support a separate claim in the tort context. Id. at 4. Although recognizing its authority to create (and potential policy reasons favoring) a medical monitoring claim, the Court of Appeals expressed concerns that such a cause of action could flood the already overburdened courts, diverting funds from individuals with actual physical injuries. Id. at 11-13. Several other state high courts have considered this issue, and are split on whether to allow medical monitoring in absence of a physical injury. See id. at 9-10. (For more detailed coverage of this decision, see http://www.bdlaw.com/news-1555.html.)