Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories Case Brief

Summary of Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories, S. Ct. California, 1980

Relevant Facts: While the PL’s mother was pregnant with her, she was given a synthetic estrogen, DES, to prevent miscarriage. Pl alleges that she developed cancer as a result of this action, and named five manufacturers of DES as co-defendants. There are 195 other manufacturers of DES [diethylstilbestrol].

Legal Issue(s): Whether the named dfs represent a substantial share of manufacturers of DES, and thereby the parties which caused the harm?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Trial Ct. dismissed the action. Reversed.

Law or Rule(s): 1) Duty, 2) Breach of Duty 3) causation, and 4) damages. The causation element requires proof of both cause in fact and proximate cause.

Court Rationale: If all the dfs jointly controlled the risk of harm, and the pl could establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the product was manufactured by one defendant, the burden of proof as to causation would shift to all dfs, so long as it only applies to a small unit of producers. Where in this case there are some 200 manufacturers this doctrine does not apply.

In determining causation, measure the likelihood that nay of the dfs supplied the product, by the percentage of DES sold by each of them for the purpose of preventing miscarriages. PL asserts that 5 or 6 companies produces 90 % of the DES marketed. Each manufacturer’s liability for an injury would be approximately equivalent to the damages caused by the DES it manufactured.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Pl was injured by a drug that was manufactured where 5 or 6 companies produce 90 % of the DES marketed

Defendant’s Argument: It is impossible to determine which company produced the DES which caused the injury to PL, and PL failed to name all possible dfs.

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