“This case is a personal-injury action for compensatory and punitive damages against several manufacturers of the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) based upon negligence, breach of warranty, res ipsa loquitur and strict product liability. The plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island on November 5, 1980.
ANTHONY v. ABBOTT LABORATORIES, Leagle, 1985533490A2d43_1531, April 3, 1985.
The parties are not contesting the facts, and they are relevant only to the question that is submitted to this court.
The plaintiffs in this action allege that they have suffered physical injury as the result of ingestion of or exposure in utero to DES. DES is a synthetic hormone that was marketed by drug companies and widely prescribed by physicians for a number of purposes, one of which was to prevent miscarriages.
The plaintiffs include eleven daughters who allege that they have suffered physical injury as the result of exposure to DES in utero and one mother who alleges that she has suffered physical injury as the result of ingestion of DES. With respect to each of these plaintiffs: (1) more than three years elapsed between the allegedly injurious exposure to the product and the institution of this civil action and (2) more than three years elapsed between plaintiff’s eighteenth birthday and the institution of the lawsuit. Each of these plaintiffs became aware more than three years prior to filing suit that she had physical injuries and that those injuries were possibly caused by exposure to DES. Eleven of the twelve plaintiffs in question have filed affidavits in which they state that they had no knowledge of any actionable conduct on the part of defendants at any time more than three years prior to suit.
On January 31, 1984, defendants (excluding defendant Burroughs & Wellcome, Inc.) jointly filed a motion for summary judgment based upon the statute of limitations § 9-1-14. However, the trial justice determined that the issue required an interpretation of Rhode Island law and thereupon certified the question to this Court.
The issue raised by this case is whether the statute of limitations begins to run in a drug product-liability action when the plaintiff discovers the personal injuries and its cause or when plaintiff discovers or should have discovered knowledge of defendant manufacturer’s wrongful conduct.
The defendants contend that the cause of action “accrues” when the injured person knew of her injury and the cause of the injury. They argue that when the plaintiff discovers that the product caused her injuries, the statute of limitations would begin to run.
In turn, plaintiffs argue that before the statute begins to run, there must be some knowledge by the plaintiff of wrongful conduct on the part of the drug manufacturer.” …
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