Hymowitz v. Eli Lilly & Co.

73 N.Y.2d 487 (1989)

Quick Summary

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Hymowitz (plaintiff) sued Eli Lilly and other manufacturers (defendants) after developing complications from her mother’s use of DES, a drug taken during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage. Due to difficulty in identifying the specific manufacturer of DES, she faced challenges in proving liability for her injuries.

The core issue presented to the Court was whether Hymowitz could recover damages without identifying which manufacturer produced the DES that caused her injuries, and whether New York’s revival statute for barred DES actions was constitutional.

The Court ruled in favor of allowing market share liability as a basis for recovery and upheld the constitutionality of the revival statute.

Facts of the Case

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The plaintiffs in this case, including Hymowitz (plaintiff), were female children of mothers who had taken the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy to prevent miscarriages. Years later, these daughters developed vaginal cancer and other complications.

Due to the passage of time, it was nearly impossible for the mothers to recall which company manufactured the DES they took. This made it difficult for the DES daughters to prove which manufacturers were liable for their injuries.

The New York legislature responded by enacting a bill to revive DES actions that were previously barred by the statute of limitations. In this representative action, Hymowitz sued Eli Lilly and other DES manufacturers (defendants) for her injuries caused by DES.

Eli Lilly moved for summary judgment, arguing that Hymowitz could not prove which manufacturer produced the DES causing her injuries. The trial court denied this motion, and the appellate court affirmed.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Hymowitz filed a lawsuit against Eli Lilly and other DES manufacturers for injuries caused by DES.
  2. Eli Lilly moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Hymowitz could not identify the specific manufacturer of the DES that caused her injuries.
  3. The trial court denied Eli Lilly’s motion.
  4. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision.
  5. The case was then appealed to the Court of Appeals of New York.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether a DES plaintiff may recover damages from a DES manufacturer without identifying the specific producer responsible for her injury and whether the New York Legislature’s revival of barred DES actions is constitutional.

Rule of Law

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The court adopted a market share liability approach, using a national market to determine liability and apportion damages in cases where the specific manufacturer of DES cannot be identified. It also held that the legislative revival of previously barred actions is constitutional under State and Federal law.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Court of Appeals recognized the unique challenge faced by DES plaintiffs in identifying the specific manufacturer responsible for their injuries due to factors such as identical chemical composition, widespread production by approximately 300 companies, and the long latency period of DES-related injuries.

The court determined that traditional tort doctrines like alternative liability and concerted action were not suitable for addressing this identification issue in DES cases.

Instead, the court adopted a market share liability theory based on a national market. This approach was deemed fair for apportioning defendants’ responsibilities and equitable for providing relief to plaintiffs.

It was reasoned that this method aligns with societal expectations and legislative intent, taking into account practical lessons from other jurisdictions. The court emphasized that liability is several only and should not be inflated when not all market participants are present in a case, thus plaintiffs may not recover full damages.


Conclusion Icon

The Court affirmed the orders of the Appellate Division, allowing Hymowitz and other similar plaintiffs to seek damages under a market share liability theory without identifying the specific manufacturer of the DES ingested by their mothers.

Dissenting Opinions

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Judge MOLLEN dissented in part, agreeing with the majority on the constitutionality of the revival statute and the adoption of a market share theory but disagreeing with the exclusion of exculpation for defendants who could prove non-involvement in causing individual plaintiffs’ injuries. He advocated for allowing defendants to exculpate themselves and supported imposing joint and several liability on non-exculpated defendants to ensure full recovery for plaintiffs.

Key Takeaways

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  1. The Court adopted a market share liability approach based on a national market for apportioning damages in DES cases where specific manufacturers cannot be identified.
  2. Traditional tort principles like alternative liability and concerted action were deemed unsuitable for resolving identification issues in DES cases.
  3. The revival statute enacted by the New York legislature to allow previously barred DES actions was found constitutional under State and Federal law.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What is market share liability and in what types of cases is it most applicable?

Market share liability is a legal doctrine that allows plaintiffs to recover damages from multiple manufacturers proportionate to their share in the market of a harmful product when it is impossible to identify the specific supplier responsible for the harm. This concept is particularly applicable in complex product liability cases involving generic products manufactured by multiple companies, such as pharmaceutical drugs with long-term latent effects.

  • For example: If a consumer is harmed by a generic drug but cannot pinpoint which company’s version was taken, the court may distribute the liability across the manufacturers based on their respective market shares at the time the product was sold.

How does a revival statute function and under what circumstances might it be enacted?

A revival statute temporarily suspends or extends statutory limitations periods, allowing individuals to file lawsuits that would otherwise be barred due to the expiration of the original statutory deadline. It is especially enacted in scenarios where new information emerges that redefines the understanding of harm or in cases of widespread public impact, often after significant time has passed since the cause of action arose.

  • For example: A government enacts a revival statute for claims related to environmental pollution after new evidence links certain health issues to pollutants released decades prior, providing residents affected by this pollution a new opportunity for legal recourse.

In tort law, how does 'several liability' differ from 'joint and several liability', and what implications does this have for plaintiffs seeking damages?

‘Several liability’ holds each defendant liable only for their portion of damages based on their degree of fault, preventing plaintiffs from recovering their entire judgment from one defendant. In contrast, ‘joint and several liability’ allows plaintiffs to recover all damages from any one of multiple defendants, regardless of their individual share of fault. This distinction impacts plaintiffs significantly in terms of strategic litigation and potential recovery of damages.

  • For example: In an accident involving multiple businesses responsible for hazardous road conditions, under several liability, the plaintiff must pursue each business for their specific contribution to damages, whereas under joint and several liability, the plaintiff might seek full compensation from the business with the deepest pockets.
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