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Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories


    Citation. Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories, 26 Cal. 3d 588, 607 P.2d 924, 163 Cal. Rptr. 132, 1980 Cal. LEXIS 151, 2 A.L.R.4th 1061, CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P8648 (Cal. Mar. 20, 1980)

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Sindell (Plaintiff), developed cancer as a result of a drug her mother took while pregnant.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In certain circumstances where the plaintiff is unable to identity the actual tortfeasor and it is unjust to preclude them from recovery, then the group responsible for the overall harm can be held liable.

    Facts. The Plaintiff’s mother took synthetic estrogen while pregnant with the Plaintiff. As a result of receiving the drug in-utero, the Plaintiff developed cancer as an adult. The drug was manufactured by the Defendants, five drug companies (Defendants) and by about 195 other companies not named in the suit. The Defendants together produced 90% of the drug. The Plaintiff is unable to identify which company produced the actual drug her mother took.

    Issue. Whether the Defendants are liable for the Plaintiff’s cancer.

    Held. The Defendants are liable for the injury to Plaintiff.

    Discussion.
    * This case is unlike others in which the plaintiff is unaware of the identity of the tortfeasor. First, there is a large number of possible tortfeasors, the majority of which are not named defendants. Second, the industry responsible for the production of this drug is large, so holding all of the manufacturers responsible becomes impractical.
    * There are strong policy reasons for fashioning liability to the Defendants. First, the Plaintiff was innocent of any wrongdoing and has no way of knowing which of the drug manufactures caused her injury. Second, the manufacturers of such drugs should be culpable for producing a drug that has harmful effects to future generations. Third, the manufactures are in a better position to bear the cost of such harm and they are in the best position to discover and guard against future harm.
    * If the Plaintiff joins a substantial share of the manufactures into the lawsuit, the chances of the actual tortfeasor escaping liability is greatly reduced. To determine damages, each manufacturer’s liability will depend on the share it had in the market for the drug unless that defendant can show that it could not have made the product that Plaintiff’s mother ingested. In this way, each manufacturer is liable for an equivalent portion of the injury as to its share of the defective drug it manufacure.


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