Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group
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.