Citation. Enright v. Eli Lilly & Co., 77 N.Y.2d 377, 570 N.E.2d 198, 568 N.Y.S.2d 550, CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P12,734 (N.Y. Feb. 19, 1991)
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Plaintiff, Patricia Enright on behalf of Karen Enright an infant (Plaintiff), sued the Defendants, various manufacturers of DES (Defendants), for damage done to her because of a premature birth. This premature birth was allegedly the result of damage to Patricia Enright’s mother’s reproductive system, which was damaged due to in utero exposure to DES.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Causes of action are not recognized for children who have injuries which were caused by a preconception tort committed against the mother.
Plaintiff’s grandmother took a prescription pill called DES intended to prevent miscarriage during pregnancy. Plaintiff’s grandmother gave birth to Patricia Enright, who alleges she developed abnormalities of her reproductive system due to exposure to DES. These abnormalities allegedly resulted in the premature birth of Plaintiff, who suffers from cerebral palsy and other disabilities attributed to her premature birth. Plaintiff’s claims were dismissed by the trial court. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the negligence, breach of warranty, and fraud causes of action, but reinstated the strict liability count.
Can a plaintiff recover under a strict liability theory for injuries sustained during birth that were the result of abnormalities in her mother’s reproductive system caused by the mother’s in utero exposure to DES?
No. Judgment reversed.
* Due to the widespread tragic effects of DES, the legislature has removed legal barriers to tort recovery. Instead of the usual tolling of the statute of limitations for exposure to toxic substances when the exposure occurs, the legislature changed the law to allow the limitations period to begin to run upon discovery of the injury. Additionally, the legislature has allowed for liability to be imposed upon DES manufacturers in proportion to their share of the national DES market when plaintiffs find it impossible to identify the manufacturer of the drug that caused her injuries.
* In the present case, the Court is asked to recognize a cause of action not available in other contexts simply because this is a DES case. Previous cases have determined that causes of action do not lie in favor of children for injuries suffered as a result of a preconception tort committed against the mother [Albala v. New York, 54 N.Y.2d 269, 429 N.E.2d 786]. This Court does not believe that the public interest in providing a remedy for those injured by DES is stronger than the public interest in providing remedies for those injured by other means.
* Plaintiff also argues that previous decisions involved negligence cases and that a different result might be obtained under a strict products liability theory. This Court finds that public policy considerations counsel against allowing such causes of action. First, these causes of action could not be confined without drawing artificial boundaries, as the effects of DES exposure may extend for generations. More importantly, such extensive liability might hinder the creation and availability of important prescription drugs.
Part of the reasoning for not allowing tort actions through multiple generations is the issue of foreseeability. While a reasonable person could foresee that injuries would occur to those directly exposed to DES, it is more difficult to foresee that injuries would occur to multiple later generat