1981 DES Case: Needham v. White Laboratories, Inc.


In 1946 the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) authorized defendant-appellant White Laboratories, Inc. (“White”), to market dienestrol, a synthetic estrogen, for the treatment of menopausal symptoms and suppression of lactation In 1950 the FDA authorized White to market dienestrol for treatment of threatened and habitual miscarriages.

Mary Needham, plaintiff-appellee Anne Needham’s mother, took dienestrol in 1952 during her pregnancy with plaintiff. In early 1974 Dr. Jerome Warren informed Anne Needham that she had clear cell adenocarcinoma, a rare form of vaginal cancer. Needham claims that the dienestrol her mother took in 1952 is the proximate cause of her cancer.

NEEDHAM v. WHITE LABORATORIES, INC., Leagle, decision/19811033639F2d394_1963, April 27, 1981.

The trial of this cause was trifurcated. A jury was impaneled to determine whether the Illinois statute of limitations barred this suit. The jury found that the Illinois two-year statute of limitations did not bar plaintiff’s cause of action. A new jury was impaneled to decide the liability and damages issues. That jury returned a verdict for plaintiff and, after the subsequent damages trial, awarded the plaintiff $800,000. White appeals. We reverse and remand.  …  …

The limitations period does not commence when the plaintiff learns of his injury, but only after the plaintiff knows or has reason to know that he or she has a physical problem and also that someone is or may be responsible for it.

White claims that the jury finding that Needham did not know of the connection between her injury and the dienestrol her mother took before March 22, 1974, is not supported by the record. We disagree.

Needham testified that she first learned of the possible connection between her injury and the dienestrol in May 1974. Her mother testified that neither she nor plaintiff knew of the relationship between the cancer and the dienestrol before May 1974. The only evidence tending to prove that Needham knew or should have known of the connection between her injury and dienestrol before March 22, 1974, was the testimony of her father and her gynecologist, Dr. Jerome Warren. Needham’s father testified that he knew of the connection between Needham’s injury and the dienestrol on March 1, 1974, but that he did not discuss the possible connection with his daughter before March 22, 1974. Dr. Warren testified that he discussed the connection between the cancer and dienestrol with plaintiff and her mother at a meeting on March 2, 1974. Plaintiff and her mother, however, testified that no meeting occurred on March 2, 1974, and Dennis Rauen testified that he was with Needham all day March 2, 1974.

The jury’s function is to resolve the conflicts in the testimony and weigh the credibility of the witnesses. Legally sufficient evidence in the record supports the jury’s resolution of the conflicts in favor of the plaintiff, and we affirm its finding that this suit is not time-barred.

White claims that the district court erred in permitting Needham to introduce evidence that dienestrol was not effective in preventing miscarriages. We agree with defendant and reverse and remand. In ruling that inefficacy evidence was admissible, the district court erroneously interpreted Illinois case law and the comments to section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. …

…  Second, the manufacturer will be strictly liable if it fails to warn of a known risk inherent in the product. Comment j of section 402A explains that a product may be unreasonably dangerous if the manufacturer fails to warn of an inherent danger.

The seller is required to warn [of a danger], if he has knowledge, or by the application of reasonable, developed human skill and foresight should have knowledge, of the presence of … the danger. Likewise in the case of poisonous drugs, or those unduly dangerous for other reasons, warning as to use may be required.

… Third, a court will impose strict product liability even if a warning is given if the product remains unsafe when the warning is followed and the risk of danger outweighs any apparent usefulness of the product.

There are some products which, in the present state of human knowledge, are quite incapable of being made safe for their intended and ordinary use. These are especially common in the field of drugs. An outstanding example is the vaccine for the Pasteur treatment of rabies, which not uncommonly leads to very serious and damaging consequences when it is injected. Since the disease itself invariably leads to a dreadful death, both the marketing and the use of the vaccine are fully justified, notwithstanding the unavoidable high degree of risk which they involve. Such a product, properly prepared, and accompanied by proper directions and warnings, is not defective, nor is it unreasonably dangerous. The same is true of many other drugs, vaccines, and the like, many of which for this very reason cannot legally be sold except to physicians, or under the prescription of a physician. It is also true in particular of many new or experimental drugs as to which, because of lack of time and opportunity for sufficient medical experience, there can be no assurance of safety, or perhaps even purity of ingredients, but such experience as there is justifies the marketing and use of the drug notwithstanding a medically recognizable risk. The seller of such products, again with the qualification that they are properly prepared and marketed, and proper warning is given, where the situation calls for it, is not to be held to strict liability for unfortunate consequences attending their use, merely because he has undertaken to supply the public with an apparently useful and desirable product, attended with a known but apparently reasonable risk. ” … …

… continue reading NEEDHAM v. WHITE LABORATORIES, INC. on Leagle.

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