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Smokers Have No New Equitable Claim for Medical Monitoring


The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed longtime heavy smokers and former smokers claims alleging negligence, strict products liability, and breach of implied warranty of merchantability, as well as their independent equitable claim seeking medical monitoring with respect to an increased risk of cancer.

 

The Second Circuit United States Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied warranty claims, and certified questions regarding the medical monitoring claim. Specifically, the Second Circuit asked whether a current or former longtime heavy smoker who has not been diagnosed with a smoking-related disease, and who is not under investigation by a physician for such a suspected disease, may pursue an independent equitable cause of action for medical monitoring for a disease. The New York Court of Appeals answered the question in the negative. Therefore, the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the medical monitoring claims.

 

The New York Court of Appeals noted that there were significant policy reasons that favored recognizing an independent medical monitoring cause of action, including the interest in early detection and treatment for persons whose exposure has resulted in an increased risk of disease. But it concluded that those interests were outweighed by other policy considerations, including the potential systemic effects of creating a new, full-blown, tort law cause of action; the technical and administrative challenges of implementing a medical monitoring program; and the potential for allowing asymptomatic persons who may never contract a smoking-related disease to recover for monitoring, leading to the inequitable diversion of money away from those who have actually sustained an injury as a result of the exposure. The Court of Appeals concluded that the latter policy considerations—and the fact that the legislature was in a better position than the judiciary to study the impact and consequences of creating such a cause of action, including the costs of implementation and the burden on the courts in adjudicating independent claims by asymptomatic plaintiffs—militated against a judicially-created independent cause of action for medical monitoring.

 

The New York Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs did not have an independent equitable cause of action for medical monitoring under New York law. Therefore, the Second Circuit United States Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the medical monitoring claims.

 

See: Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 2014 WL 1408458 (C.A.2 (N.Y.), April 14, 2014) (not designated for publication).

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, October 2012 Report: Mistakes in Diagnosing Cancer: Liability Concerns for Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Delayed Diagnosis

 

 

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