S.E.F. v Archer-Daniels-Midland Co & Ors (2014) H&FLR 2014-8
United States District Court (W.D.N.Y.)
21 April 2014
Coram: Skretny CJ
Appearing for the Plaintiff: J. Michael Hayes (of Law Offices of J. Michael Hayes)
Appearing for the Defendant: Kevin Hogan (of Phillips Lytle LLP) and Dan K. Webb, Stephen V. D’Amore, Scott P. Glauberman and Cornelius M. Murphy (all of Winston & Strawn LLP)
Catchwords: New York – high-fructose corn syrup – diabetes – negligence – product liability – failure to warn – market-share liability – feasible redesign
Facts: The defendants* were manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The plaintiff was a 14 year old girl who alleged that she had consumed HFCS in common foods and that this caused her to develop Type 2 diabetes. She sought compensation from the defendants based on negligence, gross negligence, strict products liability and failure to warn of the danger of a product. She relied on the doctrine of market-share liability, whereby a defendant can be presumed liable for a plaintiff’s injury to the extent of its share of the relevant market**.
The defendants’ position was that the plaintiff could neither connect her condition to HFCS, nor to any particular defendant. It was also contended that Federal food-additive laws pre-empted her claim. The defendants applied to dismiss the claim.
Judicial notice was taken that type 2 diabetes could be caused by a number of factors including diet, exercise (or lack thereof) and family history. It was common ground that the law of the state of New York applied to the claim.
Held, dismissing the plaintiff’s claim,
(1) The plaintiff had failed to state a plausible ground for relief and therefore the claim failed.
(2) An implausible claim ought not be allowed to proceed on the basis that may be validated or undermined through discovery.
(3) New York law does not allow “market share liability” to apply in cases where the manifestation of injury is not alleged to be far removed from the time of the allegedly harmful product’s consumption. It also does not allow the doctrine to apply where there is no signature injury conclusively linking the product to the harm, and certainly not where there is no clear public policy that it should apply.
(4) New York law recognizes claims of strict liability in relation to design defects where it can be shown that: the product as designed presented a substantial risk of harm; it was feasible to design it in a safer manner; and the design defect was a substantial factor in causing injury. However, if the necessary redesigning causes the product to cease to exist, a design defect claim must fail.
The Court’s judgment is available here.
* Archer-Daniels-Midland Co, Cargill Inc, Ingredion Inc, Penford Products Co, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas LLC and Roquette America Inc.
** Hymowitz v Eli Lilly & Co, 73 NY.2d 487; 539 NE.2d 1069 (1989).