The New York Court of Appeals recently held that New York law does not recognize an independent, equitable cause of action for medical monitoring for smoking-related diseases, such as lung cancer, brought by current or former smokers who have not been diagnosed with such a disease, and who are not being investigated by a physician for such a suspected disease. Caronia v. Philip Morris, USA, Inc., 998 N.E.2d 1065 (N.Y. 2013). The plaintiffs were all over the age of fifty and had been "pack a day" smokers for at least 20 years.
The court based its holding on the principle that a threat of future harm is not sufficient to impose liability in a tort context, noting that New York law requires physical harm as a prerequisite to tort recovery. According to the court, the physical harm requirement for tort claims provides a basis for verifying worthy claims and eliminating spurious ones by defining the class of persons who actually possess a cause of action, providing a basis for the factfinder to determine whether a litigant actually possesses a claim, and protecting court dockets from being clogged with frivolous and unfounded claims.
The dissent, and several other jurisdictions, do not agree with this holding, and the court's opinion provides a good discussion of both sides of the issue.