DRI Product Liability Conference Underway

by Dechert LLP
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[author: Sean Wajert]

This week I am attending the DRI Product Liability seminar.  Yesterday's highlights included a keynote address by Hon. Anne Northup, Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Her remarks covered "The Past, Present, and Future of the CPSC."  She brings an interesting perspective, having formerly been a member of Congress.  As a mother of 6 kids and grandmother of 8, she feels well qualified to understand the use and abuse of children's products in particular. She emphasized that consumers value choice, a vibrant market, innovation and competition-- things that over-regulation can suppress.  She pointed to the onerous third-party testing requirements and record-keeping burdens in many of the recent CPSC rules.  She was cautiously optimistic that the continuing tough economy has given the majority Democrats on the CPSC some pause, as well as pointing to H.R. 2715 in which Congress told the Commission to simplify the burden of certification regulations.

I spoke at the session of the Mass Torts & Class Actions subcommittee, chaired by Glenn Kerner, on the topic of Medical Monitoring.  I tried to give the group some strategies to think about; e.g., recent federal cases have confirmed that the clarified pleading requirements of Twombly/Iqbal do apply to medical monitoring claims. E.g., Hagy v. Equitable Production Co., 2011 WL 1627920 (S.D. W.Va. April 28, 2011). That court dismissed the medical monitoring claim because plaintiff failed to allege sufficient specific facts showing the substance was hazardous, plaintiffs’ risk of future injury was a proximate result of the exposure, monitoring was reasonably necessary due to the increased risk, or that effective monitoring procedures exist. See also Bourgeois v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 2011 WL 6130767 (E.D.La. Dec.8, 2011).  I also touched on Jonathan Hirsch, et al. v. CSX Transportation Inc., 656 F.3d 359 (6th Cir. 2011), and its treatment of the exposure and risk elements of a medical monitoring theory.

Courts typically require that the prescribed monitoring regime is different from that normally recommended in the absence of exposure. One recent case exploring this notion which I pointed out  is In re Avandia Marketing, 2011 WL 4006639 (E.D.Pa. Sept. 7, 2011). In this class action involving the diabetes drug, the medical monitoring claim was denied because plaintiff failed to allege specific facts showing what medical monitoring would actually be needed because of exposure to the drug that would not already be recommended for some plaintiffs living with Type 2 Diabetes who did not take the drug.

Finally, I focused on Gates v. Rohm & Haas Co., 655 F.3d 255 (3d Cir. 2011), in which Third Circuit said it would "question whether the kind of medical monitoring sought here can be certified under Rule 23(b)(2)." If the plaintiffs prevailed, class members' regimes of medical screenings and the corresponding cost would vary individual by individual. A single injunction or declaratory judgment would seem to not be able to provide relief to each member of the class proposed in this case. Rule 23(b)(2) “does not authorize class certification when each class member would be entitled to an individualized award of monetary damages.” Wal-Mart, 131 S. Ct. at 2557.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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