As readers of this blog know, we have been closely following developments regarding claims for medical monitoring. (Medical Monitoring Claims in Illinois, Part 1; Medical Monitoring Claims in Illinois, Part 2.) A recent decision arising out of Hoosick Falls, New York, allowed Plaintiffs’ request for a medical monitoring fund to survive defendants’ motion to dismiss. On Feb. 24, 2016, Plaintiffs, on behalf of a putative class, brought suit against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. and Honeywell International Inc., alleging that Defendants’ manufacturing facilities in the Village of Hoosick Falls, New York, caused groundwater contamination. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ manufacturing and disposal of products containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) caused PFOA to contaminate the municipal water system and private wells. PFOA is a chemical used to create water, oil, and grease repellency which can remain in soil and water for extended periods of time. Plaintiffs alleged that they experienced heightened blood levels of PFOA, which may cause cancer, as well as loss of property value due to the stigma of contaminated groundwater. The complaint asserted claims for negligence, private nuisance, trespass, and strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity. The complaint set forth two subclasses of plaintiffs based on their water source: (1) Municipal Water Property Damage – owners of real property in the village who receive drinking water from the municipal water supply; and (2) Private Well Water Property Damage – owners of real property in the village who receive drinking water from a privately-owned well.
Defendants brought a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Significantly, Plaintiffs sought to establish a medical monitoring program designed to fund future testing and treatment for diseases related to PFOA exposure. Defendants argued that Plaintiffs asserted a separate medical monitoring claim without alleging the existence of present physical injuries, a requisite under New York law. The Court disagreed, finding that Plaintiffs properly alleged an injury to both person and property. In particular, the Court adopted the reasoning of the Second Circuit in In re World Trade Ctr. Lower Manhattan Disaster Site Litig., holding that the heightened accumulation of PFOA in Plaintiffs’ blood levels permits a claim for negligence seeking medical monitoring damages. See 758 F. 3d 202, 213 (2nd Cir. 2014). Even if the accumulation of toxins in blood were not a sufficient injury, the Court relied on Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. to find that plaintiffs may seek medical monitoring as consequential damages for a tort alleging injury to property. 2011 WL 338425 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2011) aff’d in part, question certified, 715 F.3d 417 (2d Cir. 2013), certified question accepted, 21 N.Y.3d 937 (2013), and certified question answered, 22 N.Y.3d 439 (2013), and aff’d, 748 F.3d 454 (2d Cir. 2014). However, the Court cautioned that the decision did not determine what Plaintiffs must prove at trial to recover consequential medical monitoring damages. Noting that the Defendants’ motion to dismiss raised “several complex and novel issues of New York law” which is “significantly muddled,” the Court certified the question for interlocutory appeal. We will continue to follow this appeal closely.
Defendants also argued that the property damage claims based on injury to groundwater must be dismissed because the water is a public resource belonging to the state of New York, not individual residents. The Court agreed that Plaintiffs could not state a claim for relief if the only alleged injury was to the public groundwater; however, the Court found that Plaintiffs’ claims for negligence and strict liability based on property damage survived because they alleged the loss of their potable water, reduction in property value, and sought damages for remediation costs for property contamination and restoring their potable water supply. Defendants moved to dismiss the trespass claim brought by the Private Well Plaintiffs on the basis that the Plaintiffs’ property was not injured by PFOA contamination. The Court rejected this argument, finding that the groundwater provided the medium through which the contamination moved into Plaintiffs’ private wells, thus injuring Plaintiffs’ private property. Defendants also moved to dismiss the private nuisance claim for failure to state a claim. Defendants argued that a private nuisance claim must affect only a small number of people, but Plaintiffs alleged a widespread injury. The Court agreed in part and dismissed the Municipal Water Plaintiffs’ nuisance claim, finding that the allegations of harm suffered by “all renters and owners in Hoosick Falls” constituted a public nuisance, which only the state of its subdivision have standing to bring; however, the Private Well Plaintiffs suffered a “special loss” sufficient to maintain a private nuisance action where they had to install point of entry treatment systems on their property which requires ongoing maintenance. Because of this, the Court allowed the Private Well Plaintiffs’ nuisance claim to proceed.
In our last post, we discussed Illinois Appellate Court decisions concerning medical monitoring claims. Plaintiffs have been similarly unsuccessful at the trial court level. Judge Leroy Martin in the Circuit Court of Cook County (Chancery) dismissed a medical monitoring claim pursuant to defendants’ 735 ILCS 5/2-615 motion to dismiss. See Pierscionek v. Ill. High Sch. Ass’n, 2015 Ill. Cir. LEXIS 24 (Ill. Cir. Ct. October 27, 2015). The court likened plaintiff’s claim for medical monitoring to Lewis I and dismissed the complaint:
The court in Lewis was concerned with some of the same issues presented in the case at bar—a plaintiff who fails to allege the existence of a present injury and the fundamental difference between a claim seeking damages for an increased risk of future harm and one that seeks compensation for the cost of medical examinations. Ultimately, the Lewis decision determined that plaintiffs had failed to plead tort claims because they failed to establish a causative link between the tortious acts of a specific defendant and damages sought — the cost of screening for lead poisoning….The complaint before this court seeks ongoing medical monitoring as opposed to screening for a medical condition but the pleading fails to establish a causative link between IHSA and the damages sought.
The opinion further stated, unequivocally, “Illinois law does not recognize a medical-monitoring-only cause of action.” Pierscionek, 2015 Ill. Cir. LEXIS 24, *11 (Ill. Cir. Ct. Oct. 27, 2015).
In furtherance of the Jensen court’s admonishment that that Lewis I does not support the viability of medical monitoring only claims, the Illinois Appellate Court has also supported the rejection of such claims. See Campbell v. A.C. Equip. Serv. Corp., Inc., 242 Ill. App. 3d 707 (4th Dist. 1993) (where the court did not recognize a cause of action to recover expenses for medical monitoring absent present physical injury); Betts v. Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, 224 Ill. App. 3d 882 (4th Dist. 1992) (where the court rejected medical monitoring damages in an asbestos case absent proof of present injury).
While the Illinois Supreme Court has not yet recognized this type of claim, several federal district court opinions have concluded that Illinois would recognize independent claims for medical monitoring. Stella v. LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics USA, Inc., 564 F. Supp.2d 833, 836 (N.D. Ill. 2008); Gates v. Rohm & Haas Co., 2007 WL 2155665, at *4-5 (E.D. Pa. July 26, 2007) (applying Illinois law); Muniz v. Rexnord Corp., 2006 WL 1519571, at *6-7 (N.D. Ill. 2006); Carey v. Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp., 999 F. Supp. 1109, 1119 (N.D. Ill. 1998)(predicting that the Illinois Supreme Court would uphold a claim for medical monitoring without requiring plaintiffs to plead and prove a present physical injury).
If the Illinois Supreme Court allows medical monitoring claims for plaintiffs without a present physical injury, the court should provide instructions for how a defendant can establish and manage a fund for medical monitoring. Such questions include whether a defendant must monitor for other medical issues, time limitations, administrative authority, size of fund, and adapting to increased costs of health care. Without guidance as to these fundamental issues, the courts may be faced with increased litigation over the proper way for a defendant to establish and manage a medical monitoring fund.