Appellate Division rejects application of collective liability to claim related to oral polio vaccine.
SteveK July 16th, 2010
On June 12, 2010, in Mereno v. American Home Products, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of a claim by Mark Moreno and his mother of defectively manufactured oral polio vaccine (OPV) which had been administered to plaintiff resulting in a brain tumor and permanent disabilities. It was claimed that the vaccine used was defective because the manufacturer failed to screen for infective Simian Virus 40 (SV40). Since plaintiffs were unable to identify the responsible manufacturer, they named all the companies licensed to manufacture OPV at the relevant time. The Court affirmed that summary judgment was appropriate even though discovery was not complete, because the plaintiff could not show that the outstanding discovery would supply information relevant either to lead to the identity of the manufacturer or to any theory of collective liability.
In analyzing the plaintiffs’ claims of collective liability, the court first considered whether the law of New Jersey or the law of New York applied as evidence indicated that the OPV was administered in New York; however, the plaintiffs have resided in New Jersey for over 35 years. The Court reviewed the various theories of collective liability and concluded that under the laws of both states, they could not be applied in this case. The court distinguished a New York decision applying market-share liability to the manufacturers of another drug, DES, because the injury did not result from the defective design of the drug, as with DES, but was due to the failure of a manufacturer to comply with federal regulations relevant to screening and neutralization of SV40 and “and produced a defective or deviant vaccine.” The Appellate Court, therefore, concluded that the failure of a single manufacturer to comply with proper manufacturing processes and procedures did not warrant imposition of liability on all the manufacturers of the same product.
This decision continues to reinforce the requirement of proper product identification, and the need for the plaintiff to prove causation-in-fact, and further reviews the limited grounds where a court will shift the burden to defendants to distinguish their product or actions from that of other defendants.
DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis & Lehrer, PC ( www.dbnjlaw.com ) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services, including the representation of clients in environmental and defense of toxic exposure matters. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s environmental practice, please contact Steven A. Kunzman, Esq. who heads our Environmental and Latent Injury Litigation Department.