Torts I, Pages 305–308

Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories

Supreme Court of California, 1980

Facts:

Plaintiff's mother ingested diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant with plaintiff. The drug was marketed by approximately 200 companies, 5 of which are the defendants. Plaintiff developed cancer as a result of her exposure to the drug, but could not identify the manufacturer of the drug.

Procedural History:

Trial court dismissed the action.

Issue:

May a plaintiff, injured as the result of a drug administered to her mother during pregnancy, who knows the type of drug involved but cannot identify the manufacturer of the precise product, hold liable for her injuries a maker of a drug produced from an identical formula?

Reasoning:

  1. Summers v. Tice does not apply because not all of the defendants were before the court.
  2. The defendants did not act in concert and could not be liable together through that.
  3. Enterprise liability does not apply as the manufacturers of DES were many more than in Hall and they did not cooperate in their setting of standards as in Hall.
  4. It would be unfair for the plaintiff to not be able to recover at all due to no fault of her own when it probably was one of the defendants and they are better suited to bear the burden.

Rule/Holding:

When a group of defendants produce a substantial share of the market share of a drug, they may be held liable for harms resulting therefrom for their approximate portion of market share when the specific manufacturer is unknown.

Notes:

  • This is called market share liability.

  • This usually only applies to DES cases.

Judgment:

Reversed.

Note:

Enterprise liability is where the entire industry's standard practices create such an unreasonable risk of harm as to render them all individually liable for a complaint against any other.

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