Exposure to cancer-causing agents can raise a variety of medical and legal issues for patients. Exposure to carcinogens usually changes patients’ lives for the worse. Often, such exposures can lead to increased screenings and medical monitoring, including diagnostic testing such as x-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans that can increase the risk of cancer. Even if all test results come back negative, it is still stressful. It can disrupt patients’ daily routines and affect their ability to work. If patients are diagnosed with cancer, they may have to undergo cancer treatments and follow-up. They may no longer be able to work or care for their families or themselves. Cancer and its exhausting treatments can be devastating physically, emotionally, and financially.
Patients often seek answers from their doctors to determine if their cancers were caused by exposure to various agents. Many feel they should be compensated for harm and injury caused by the company who made the agent, and they may file suit to seek justice and financial compensation. Along with the product manufacturer, distributors and retailers are often named as codefendants. Physicians who prescribed medications or surgeons who used medical devices at issue may also be named as codefendants.
If patients believe that a chemical agent they were exposed to caused their cancer and its resulting harms and injuries, they can turn to the field of product liability law to seek redress from the company that manufactured the agent. Product liability is the area of law dealing with claims of personal injury arising from the design, manufacture, distribution, or sale of a product.1 In product liability lawsuits, the issue of cancer causation is critical when it comes to determining whether use or exposure to a certain product can cause cancer.
ELEMENTS OF A PATIENT’S CLAIM
Within the field of product liability law, there are three traditional causes of action (the legal basis or theories) upon which a patient can file a lawsuit: negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. Negligence occurs when a company fails to exercise reasonable prudence. Usually, the patient alleges that the company acted negligently in the design or manufacture of the product or in creating the warning, labels, and instructions that should accompany a product and inform the patient of the safe use of the product. Breach of warranty claims arise from a contractual relationship between the company and the patient. The basis of these claims is that the company made a false statement about the product and the patient reasonably relied on the false statement to their detriment; the understanding that the product being sold is suitable for ordinary purposes for which such goods are used; and the patient’s reliance on the seller’s skill or judgment to select the item for a special purpose. Finally, the theory of strict liability provides that if a company sells a product in a defective ...