Fletcher v Estee Lauder and Clinique. New York judge rejects forum non argument in asbestos litigation. Sheds an interesting light on the perception of England as a forum for non-occupational exposure.

Personal injury cases never make for light reading and Fletcher v Estee Lauder and Clinique is not an exception to that rule. Mrs Fletcher, aged 45, claims that her lifelong  use of the Estee Lauder talc and face powder and Clinique loose face powder, starting with puffs of powder purchased by her mother in New York in 1976, followed by regular purchases in the city in later years, caused her to develop mesothelioma.

Thank you Leigh Day, who represent Mrs Fletcher, for reporting on the case. In a preliminary ruling, Justice Mendez rejected a forum non conveniens argument made by the cosmetics giants, who had argued that England is a more natural and suitable forum for the case.

The case is interesting for my readers who follow my reports in the ‘comparative’ binder, for it is not that routine for judges to list arguments against the suitability of England as a forum.

Arguments made pro forum non are on p.2, claimant’s arguments on p.3, and Mendez J’s criteria to dismiss (having earlier established per authority that the burden of proof to dismiss is necessarily high for defendants with a substantial presence in New York) on p.5. Note his reference to the absence of no win no fee (and claimant’s limited resources); absence of jury trial; limited and expensive discovery; and a general hesitation of the legal profession in bringing cases like these (non-occupational exposure claims) against manufacturers.

Most relevant and interesting.

Geert.

 

Docherty: Asbestos litigation and the application ratione temporis of Rome II.

Thank you Brodies for flagging [2018] CSOH 25 George Docherty et al a while ago – I was not sure whether I might use the case for exam purposes. C-350/14 Lazar was among the precedents cited by  Lord Tyre to decide the application ratione temporis of the Rome II Regulation.

Article 31 Rome II states that the Regulation applies to “events giving rise to damage which occur after its entry into force”. The date of entry into force, according to article 32, was 11 January 2009. The reference in article 31 to “events giving rise to damage” is not necessarily easy to determine. Lord Tyre at 31 clarifies things by suggesting the Article is ‘clearly linked to the distinction drawn in article 4(1) between three separate concepts, namely (i) the event giving rise to the damage; (ii) the damage; and (iii) the indirect consequences of the event. In the present case, the damage consisted of the deceased’s illness and death. The indirect consequences are the losses suffered by the deceased’s relatives. The event giving rise to all of this was exposure to asbestos’: this occurred before the entry into force of the Regulation.

Had it occurred after, the Court would have applied Rome II for the UK has opted to apply the Regulation’s Article 25(2) provision for Member States with internal conflicts of laws, to apply the Regulation to these conflicts: The Law Applicable to Non-Contractual Obligations (Scotland) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/404) provide (reg 3) that the Regulation shall apply in the case of conflicts between the laws of different parts of the UK as it applies in the case of conflicts between the laws of other countries. SI 2008/2986 contains an equivalent provision for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Accordingly what the applicable law would be under the Regulation is not addressed, neither is the pursuers’ submission that any choice of English law by virtue of article 4(1) should be displaced by applying article 4(3) and holding that the delict is manifestly more closely connected with Scotland.

Residual conflict of laws applies and at 17 ff the judge applies pre-1995 common law, leading to the lex loci delicti. However these rules do not provide a clear identification of the lex loci delicti where the harmful event occurs in one jurisdiction (Scotland) but the harm, consisting of physical injury, occurs in another (England). Reviewing authority, Lord Tyre eventually holds (at 23) that the presence of asbestos dust in an employee’s lungs does not of itself constitute injury, and (subject to the Scottish statutory provisions regarding pleural plaques) no cause of action arising out of negligent exposure arises until it does. At 24:  since injury is an essential ingredient of an actionable wrong, and since injury obviously cannot take place until after the breach of duty has occurred, the place of the harmful event (or locus delicti) is where the injury takes place and not, if different, where the antecedent negligent act or omission occurred.

Conclusion: lex causae is English law. The case is a good illustration of the difficulties that remain in applying what seem prima facie fairly understandable concepts to the average lawyer.

Geert

Extended producer responsibility, former students and Israeli law – The Supreme Court in Eitanit construction products

Eitanit construction products (formerly known as Isasbest) failed in its judicial review of an Israeli Act which holds producers of hazardous materials (partially) liable for the remediation costs following pollution by said materials. The Israeli High Court rejected the asbestos manufacturer’s arguments, which were mainly based, I understand, on the protection of property rights. It upheld instead the application of the polluter pays principle. It also referred to a cradle to grave /well to wheel approach which is evident in for instance the European Union’s extended producer responsibility scheme.

In doing so, it referred to Aaron Ezroj’s 2009 article Extended Producer Responsibility Programs in the European Union, 20 Colo. J. J. Int’l L. & Pol’y 199. Aaron is a former student of mine, the article is based on his master paper here at Leuven.

I have yet to see an English version of the judgment. I have a Hebrew version on file for those versed in the language. English language reporting is available from Jonathan Zasloff and on JSpace. Discussion also included the principle of equality (non-discrimination) and retroactivity of Statute.

Geert.

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