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Hymowitz v. Eli Lilly & Co.

From lawbrain.com

Hymowitz v. Eli Lilly & Co., 493 U.S. 944 (1989), was a tort law case reviewed by the United States Supreme Court that discussed the appropriate method or apportioning damages to multiple defendants in a product liability case where identification of individual defendants responsible for harm was impossible.

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Contents

Summary of Case Facts

Over a period of many years, drug manufacturers made and offered for sale Diethylstilbestrol ("DES") – a drug advertised as effective in reducing the risk of miscarriages by pregnant women. It was a generic drug manufactured by many companies over many years, with many manufacturers entering and leaving the market at different points in time. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that women who took DES caused their offspring to experience much higher levels of vaginal cancer than those who did not. Product liability lawsuits were filed against the various manufacturers seeking damages for the harm caused. The manufacturers protested, arguing that liability could not be assessed against them as there was no way to determine which company’s pill caused each plaintiff the harm that occurred.

Issue

What is the appropriate method of apportioning liability against drug manufacturers in a products liability action where identification of each responsible manufacturer/tortfeasor with respect to each plaintiff is impossible?

Holding and Law

The court opined that fairness dictated that the plaintiffs deserve recovery as a matter of public policy. As there were too many defendants and plaintiffs and an impossible method of drawing lines of causation between them, the court decided to apportion liability to all the various manufacturers of DES based upon their national market share at the time of the injury. While this method of assessing damages would not correspond to the actual injury caused, it would at least approximate responsibility based on the general risk presented to the public at large.

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