NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lawsuits Seek Medical Monitoring For Exposure To Risks

June 25, 1999

Should people who have been exposed to potentially hazardous drugs or chemicals be compensated even if they are currently healthy? Usually a plaintiff has to suffer a demonstrable injury to win a suit.

But some courts are allowing them to recover out-of-pocket costs for checkups when they can prove they have been put at increased risk of disease as a result of a defendant's negligence or misconduct.

  • Medical monitoring hit its stride in the 1980s in suits over polluted landfills and toxic-waste sites, where workers or residents were exposed to carcinogens with lengthy latency periods.
  • More recently, several hundred people who took the diet drug Fen-Phen -- which was removed from drugstore shelves after it was discovered it could result in heart-valve damage -- are suing American Home Products Corp. to have the company pay for long-term medical monitoring.
  • In March, Teletronic Paging Systems Inc., a now defunct company, agreed to pay millions for medical monitoring to settle a class-action suit on behalf of several thousand people implanted with pacemakers with faulty lead wires.
  • Critics warn that medical-monitoring suits have the potential to overwhelm courts.

In federal court in Philadelphia, plaintiffs are seeking a program covering any person who took any of the Fen-Phen diet drugs for a month and who lack insurance -- about one million people. The plaintiffs' lawyers want certified health centers to be created around the country to conduct checkups, overseen by a court-appointed trustee.

In 1997, the Supreme Court rejected the monitoring suit brought by a pipe fitter who worked underground and came in regular contact with asbestos-laden insulation. The court dismissed the suit because he didn't have any symptoms of illness.

Source: Richard B. Schmitt, "'Fen-Phen' Suit Seeks Checkups for the Healthy," Wall Street Journal, June 25, 1999.


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