Medical Monitoring in Low Exposure Cases
NCLC asked the Sixth Circuit to affirm a district court ruling that a highly remote hypothetical risk of developing a disease is insufficient to justify establishing a court-administered, costly medical monitoring program. The case stems from plaintiffs’ alleged exposure to dioxin leaked in a 2007 freight train derailment. In this case, the plaintiffs asked the court to impose on the defendant rail company a medical monitoring program that likely would cost nearly half a billion dollars and endure for up to four decades, even though the plaintiffs’ own experts conceded a less than one-in-a-million chance that the plaintiffs would develop cancer because of the leak. In its brief, NCLC argued that allowing medical monitoring claims based on remote hypothetical risks would invite frivolous or speculative litigation, subject defendants to enormous costs with little or no corresponding public benefit, threaten payment to sick claimants now and in the future, and impose a huge administrative burden on the courts as a result of having to fashion and supervise medical monitoring programs for years on end.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to grant summary judgment to CSX Transportation in a putative medical monitoring class action arising out of a train derailment and subsequent fire in Ohio. The court agreed that the plaintiffs presented such a remote risk of disease from exposure to fumes from the fire that medical monitoring expenses would be unreasonable. The court found the conclusory affidavit from the plaintiffs’ expert to be plainly insufficient to avoid summary judgment. The court said it would leave for another day whether plaintiffs could have survived summary judgment had they presented conclusive medical evidence that a reasonable physician would order medical monitoring for the remote risk at issue.