Maryland Court of Appeals

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Maryland high court overturns $1.65 billion in damages for gas leak, rejects “fear of cancer” emotional distress claims

February 26, 2013

The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed a $150 million jury award and remanded the case back for a new trial. In a companion case arising out of the same circumstances, the Court overturned $1 billion in punitive damages and $500 million in compensatory damages. The ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals closely tracked the positions advocated by the National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC) and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce in their amicus brief.

In both cases, the Court of Appeals vacated most of the emotional distress/fear of cancer damages because the plaintiffs could not show actual exposure to gasoline constituents. The Court also disallowed almost all of the medical monitoring damage awards given that the plaintiffs could not demonstrate exposure at harmful levels and a significantly increased risk of contracting a disease. The Court handed down several other favorable rulings on such issues as the standard for punitive damages and the requirement of actual impact before property damages could be assessed.

The Court agreed with NCLC on the two issues addressed in its amicus brief - first, that Maryland does not recognize fear of cancer claims absent a present injury to the plaintiffs, and second, that Maryland law does not and should not permit recovery of medical monitoring damages absent a present injury.

U.S. Chamber files amicus brief

July 10, 2012

The U.S. Chamber urged the Maryland Court of Appeals to adopt the sound reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting “fear of cancer” lawsuits absent some present injury. The Chamber explained in its amicus brief that allowing recovery for the fear of an illness invites a flood of litigation. Such lawsuits are speculative, difficult to evaluate or quantify, and produce inconsistent results. Moreover, these lawsuits benefit health plaintiffs at the expense of those who may later be ill. The Chamber also urged the Court not to recognize claims for lump sum medical monitoring damages, absent a present injury. Like “fear of cancer” claims, medical monitoring claims invite litigation, are speculative, and favor healthy plaintiffs over future sick plaintiffs.

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