As a pharmaceutical liability attorney, I frequently tell clients and potential clients to act quickly on their cases. This is not just an advertising ploy — delaying your case too long can have serious consequences. Most vitally, a delay can cause you to miss a legal deadline called the statute of limitations. If you wait until after this deadline, you are legally barred from suing, no matter how much merit your case might have. That lesson was learned in two states in Rick et al. v. Wyeth, a recent decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Jeanette Rick and other women sued the pharmaceutical company Wyeth, alleging that they developed breast cancer after taking its hormone-replacement drugs. Their case was dismissed as time-barred in New York, so they brought it as a federal case in Minnesota. The Eighth Circuit ultimately found that it must respect New York state law even in the federal action.
The New York state cases were filed in 2004 and 2005, asserting that hormone replacement drugs from Wyeth and other companies caused the plaintiffs’ breast cancer. After lengthy discovery, the drug companies moved for summary judgment on the basis of the statute of limitations, which is three years in New York. While this was pending, the plaintiffs filed another set of claims in Minnesota federal court, where the statute of limitations is six years. They moved to dismiss the New York cases without prejudice, but the New York court instead granted summary judgment to the drug companies, finding the cases “clearly time-barred.” The Minnesota cases were also dismissed for statute of limitations reasons. The Minnesota court found that the New York cases had been litigated enough to preclude trying the same case in other jurisdictions.
The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the Minnesota federal court should give the New York state-court decision no weight. The Eighth Circuit disagreed. The issue was whether the state-court judgment precluded litigation of the same claims in federal court, the Eighth said, which reached issues of res judicata and the Constitution’s call for courts to give one another full faith and credit. Under a 1984 Supreme Court ruling, issues in federal court may be precluded by state-court rulings if the issue would be precluded in another court in the same state as the original ruling. Thus, the Eighth must apply New York law, it said. Fortunately, New York caselaw addresses the issue extensively, it said; and that caselaw bars New York courts from retrying claims that previously were extinguished by summary judgment. Thus, the Minnesota court was bound to do likewise, the Eighth concluded. It upheld the district court.
As a dangerous drug lawyer, I think this is a good example of the importance of statutes of limitations. This case died entirely because of concerns about the deadline. Whether the plaintiffs had a good case was not even discussed, much less tested and decided. This happens often in multi-plaintiff or class-action drug liability cases like this, because shutting it down early is more advantageous for the drug company. By stopping the case before the plaintiffs can present it to a jury, the companies substantially reduce the risk of losing and entirely eliminate the chance of a public airing of the allegations against them. To make sure you have access to justice, it’s vitally important to get in touch with a defective drug attorney as soon as you realize you’re interested in pursuing a legal case.
If you fell ill, sustained an injury or lost a loved one because of a prescription drug you believe is dangerous, don’t hesitate to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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