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Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories

Supreme Court of California

March 20, 1980

L.A. No. 31063


 [*593]  [**925]  [***133]    This case involves a complex problem both timely and significant: may a plaintiff, injured as the result of a drug administered to her mother during pregnancy, who knows the type of drug involved but cannot identify the manufacturer of the precise product, hold liable for her injuries a maker of a drug produced from an identical formula?

Plaintiff Judith Sindell brought an action against eleven drug companies and Does 1 through 100, on behalf of herself and other women similarly situated. The complaint alleges as follows:

Between 1941 and 1971, defendants were engaged in the business of manufacturing, promoting, and marketing diethylstilbesterol (DES), a drug which is a synthetic compound of the female hormone estrogen. The drug was administered [****3]  to plaintiff's mother and the mothers of the class she represents, 4 for the purpose of preventing miscarriage. In 1947, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the marketing of DES as a miscarriage preventative, but only on an experimental basis, with a requirement that the drug contain a warning label to that effect.

 [*594]  DES may cause cancerous vaginal and cervical growths in the daughters exposed to it before birth, because their mothers took the drug during pregnancy. The form of cancer from which these daughters suffer is known as adenocarcinoma, and it manifests itself after a minimum latent period of 10 or 12 years. It is a fast-spreading and deadly disease, and radical [****4]  surgery is required to prevent it from spreading. DES also causes adenosis, precancerous vaginal and cervical growths which may spread to other areas of the body. The treatment for adenosis is cauterization, surgery, or cryosurgery. Women who suffer from this condition must be monitored by biopsy or colposcopic examination twice a year, a painful and expensive procedure. Thousands of women whose mothers received DES during pregnancy are unaware of the effects of the drug.

In 1971, the Food and Drug Administration ordered defendants to cease marketing and promoting DES for the purpose of preventing miscarriages, and to warn physicians and the public that the drug should not be used by pregnant women because of the danger to their unborn children.

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26 Cal. 3d 588 *; 607 P.2d 924 **; 163 Cal. Rptr. 132 ***; 1980 Cal. LEXIS 151 ****; 2 A.L.R.4th 1061; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P8648

JUDITH SINDELL, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. ABBOTT LABORATORIES et al., Defendants and Respondents. MAUREEN ROGERS, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. REXALL DRUG COMPANY et al., Defendants and Respondents

Subsequent History:  [****1]  Respondents' petitions for a rehearing were denied May 7, 1980. Tobriner, J., did not participate therein. White J., 1 participated therein. Clark, J., Richardson, J., and Manuel, J., were of the opinion that the petitions should be granted.

Prior History: Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. C 169127, Jerry Pacht and Robert I. Weil, Judges. Superior Court of Ventura County, No. 61220, Steven J. Stone, Judge.

Disposition: The judgments are reversed.


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Torts, Elements, Causation, Causation in Fact, Procedural Matters, Multiple Defendants, Alternative Liability, Joint & Several Liability, General Overview, Business & Corporate Compliance, Governments, Agriculture & Food, Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, Proof, Violations of Law, Products Liability, Concerted Action, Contracts Law, Types of Contracts, Express Contracts, Governments, Legislation, Types of Statutes, Duty, Standards of Care, Types of Defects, Marketing & Warning Defects, Distinct & Divisible Harms, Manufacturing Defects, Defenses, Comparative Fault, Multiple Parties, Indemnity