Law School Case Brief
June v. Union Carbide Corp. - 577 F.3d 1234 (10th Cir. 2009)
A defendant cannot be liable to the plaintiff unless its conduct is either (a) a but-for cause of the plaintiff's injury or (b) a necessary component of a causal set that (probably) would have caused the injury in the absence of other causes. In particular, conduct was not a "substantial factor" in bringing about a plaintiff's injury unless it satisfied but-for cause or a necessary component, and also was a sufficiently significant factor under proper considerations.
This lawsuit arose out of alleged radiation injuries to plaintiff former residents of Uravan, Colorado, a former uranium and vanadium milling town owned and operated by defendants Union Carbide Corporation (“Union Carbide”) and Umetco Minerals Corporation (“Umetco”). Plaintiffs brought an action in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado under the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, Pub. L. No. 85-256, 71 Stat. 576 (codified as amended in scattered sections of Title 42 of the United States Code Service). They asserted claims for personal injury based on disease or death allegedly caused by radiation and claims for medical monitoring to detect the onset of disease in those plaintiffs who were asymptomatic. The district court dismissed all the claims on pretrial motions, and plaintiffs appealed.
In a personal injury lawsuit brought under the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, arising out of alleged radiation injuries to asymptomatic former residents of a former former uranium and vanadium milling town owned and operated by defendants Union Carbide Corporation and Umetco Minerals Corporation, were defendants liable for the alleged radiation injuries and claims for medical monitoring to detect future disease?
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed. It held that for the personal injury claims, conduct was not a "substantial factor" unless it was a but-for cause or one of multiple sufficient causes. Defendants were liable only if: (1) the exposure was a but-for cause of their medical condition, or (2) such exposure was a necessary component of a causal set that would have caused the condition. There was no evidence the radiation was either a but-for cause or that it was a necessary component of a causal set that would probably have caused one of the medical conditions. None of the experts showed that radiation was a factual cause of the ailments, nor was there evidence it was a necessary component of a causal set that probably would have caused the ailments. A motion to alter or amend had only asserted that the substantial-factor test subsumed the "but for" test, with no evidence the ailments would not have occurred absent the radiation. As to the medical monitoring claims, the alleged DNA damage and cell death, which created only a possibility of clinical disease, were not "bodily injuries" under 42 U.S.C.S. § 2014(q). Every radiation exposure caused cell damage, thus, such damage would render "bodily injury" surplusage. The Court concluded that the dismissals of claims at the pretrial motion phase were proper.
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