February 5, 2023

Volume XIII, Number 36

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February 03, 2023

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February 02, 2023

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PFAS Medical Monitoring Goes To State Supreme Court

A year-and-a-half ago, we predicted that in the PFAS litigation world, medical monitoring claims would quickly become a claim that finds its way into numerous PFAS cases with ever-increasing risks and cost to companies embroiled in the lawsuits. On November 15, 2022, the viability of medical monitoring claims with respect to PFAS found its way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court for oral argument. While courts are currently divided as to whether medical monitoring claims should be permitted to proceed without proof of actual injury to the plaintiffs, the result of the New Hampshire Supreme Court case will likely have ripple effects in other states where medical monitoring claims continue to proliferate.

PFAS Medical Monitoring Costs – The Current Landscape

PFAS medical monitoring costs is not a new topic for the litigation – it is something that plaintiffs’ counsel push for either as a damages component to a cause of action or as a term for settlement negotiations in PFAS cases. Yet, to date, only a few states allow for medical monitoring costs to be pled as a cause of action unto itself. Instead, states either require an underlying harm to be proven before the courts will consider awarding medical monitoring costs or states have outright rejected the medical monitoring theory of damages altogether.

The American Law Institute (ALI) is a prestigious legal organization that develops “Restatements” of various laws in the United States, including tort law. The ALI’s work and the Restatements, while not binding on courts, are widely regarded by attorneys, judges and legal scholars as a comprehensive understanding of many of the nuanced parts of legal theories. Through decades of work and revisions, the Restatement (Third) of Torts is now nearing the final stages of completion.

Significantly, the Restatement (Third) is contemplating including recommendations that courts allow plaintiffs to recover monetary damages for medical monitoring expenses, even though the plaintiffs do not have any present bodily harm. With respect to PFAS litigation, medical monitoring costs have been awarded in some states or through settlements to plaintiffs alleging some degree of injury from PFAS. The Restatement (Third) approach, though, opens the door to citizens in the country with no bodily injury from PFAS to participate in free (to the plaintiffs) medical monitoring to ensure that health issues do not arise related to PFAS.

The ALI’s approach to medical monitoring is a topic that is hotly contested in many legal circles, as awarding medical monitoring costs absent any injury is a highly controversial recommendation that seems to upend decades of tort law. Opponents argue that one of the very tenants of tort law is that there is an injury to the plaintiff – without an injury, there is no tort. Courts are currently split on whether they permit medical monitoring costs to be awarded to plaintiffs without any injury.

PFAS Medical Monitoring In New Hampshire

In Kevin Brown v. Saint Gobain, the plaintiffs’ drinking water was allegedly contaminated with PFOA as a result of a Saint-Gobain facility that discharged PFOA into local waterways, which fed drinking water sources. The case made its way through the USDC-NH, but the defendant certified the question to the New Hampshire Supreme Court of whether New Hampshire law permits the plaintiffs, who are asymptomatic, to bring a claim for the costs of their being periodically medically monitored for symptoms of disease caused by exposure to PFOA.

At oral argument on the issue, the parties and the Court held a spirited debate as to whether the seventeen states that allow medical monitoring as a form of relief are similar legally to New Hampshire, such that the state should adopt a broad interpretation and allow medical monitoring claims without proof of present injury. Defendant and parties who filed amicus briefs in support of defendants argued that the Court should defer to the legislature on the issue, as the legislature has primary responsibility for declaring public policy.

Impact On Companies

The issue of permitting PFAS medical monitoring claims without any present injury is one that has enormous impacts not only on PFAS manufacturers, but any downstream commerce company that finds itself in litigation (often class action lawsuits) alleging medical monitoring damages. The litigation is already shifting in such a way that downstream commerce companies (i.e. – companies that did not manufacture PFAS, but utilized PFAS in manufacturing or products) are being named in lawsuits for personal injury and environmental pollution at increasing rates. Allowing a medical monitoring component to the recoverable costs that can pled would significantly raise the risks and potential liability costs to downstream companies.

It is of the utmost importance that businesses along the whole supply chain in various industries evaluate their PFAS risk. Public health and environmental groups urge legislators to regulate PFAS at an ever-increasing pace. Similarly, state level EPA enforcement action is increasing at a several-fold rate every year. Companies that did not manufacture PFAS, but merely utilized PFAS in their manufacturing processes, are therefore becoming targets of costly enforcement actions at rates that continue to multiply year over year. Lawsuits are also filed monthly by citizens or municipalities against companies that are increasingly not PFAS chemical manufacturers.

©2023 CMBG3 Law, LLC. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 332

About this Author

John Gardella Environmental Law Attorney CMBG3 Law Firm

John Gardella is a Shareholder at CMBG3 Law in Boston, a law firm specializing in the regulatory, litigation, and compliance aspects of numerous environmental and toxic torts issues. He is a member of the firm’s PFAS Team, which counsels clients on PFAS related issues ranging from state violations to remediation litigation. Mr. Gardella has over 15 years of experience litigating environmental and toxic torts matters, including asbestos, PFAS, benzene, lead paint, mold, talc, hazardous waste and pollution matters. He is a successful trial attorney with over 75 verdicts to...