The federal court in the FEMA Trailer MDL has denied class certification to a class of plaintiffs alleging that they were harmed or put at risk of future harm by formaldehyde exposure after residing in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. See In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liability Litigation, MDL No.1873 (E.D. La., class certification denied 12/29/08).

In a previous post, MassTortDefense reported on the court’s analysis of the personal injury class claims. Today, we look at the medical monitoring class claims, a topic about which we have posted before.

In addition to all the general reasons set forth for why class certification was inappropriate, the court offered additional analysis as to why certification of the medical monitoring class (the “future medical services sub-class” ) was inappropriate.

Plaintiffs contended that class-wide common issues of law and fact included: (1) whether certain plaintiffs were significantly exposed to formaldehyde, an allegedly hazardous substance; (2) whether certain plaintiffs now suffer a significantly increased risk of contracting a serious latent disease, associated with formaldehyde exposure; (3) whether certain plaintiffs’ risk of contracting such a disease is greater than (a) the risk of contracting the same disease had there been no exposure, and (b) the chances of members of the public at large of developing the disease; (4) whether a medical procedure exists that makes the early detection of any such diseases possible; (5) whether the future medical services regime for such detection is different from medical services recommended in the absence of exposure; and (6) whether there is some demonstrated clinical value in the early detection and diagnosis of any such diseases. In essence, plaintiffs alleged that most of the elements of a medical monitoring claim were common.

The Court felt, however, that the first two allegedly class-wide issues, exposure and increased risk, were actually individual issues. Whether an individual has been “significantly exposed” to formaldehyde will differ depending on several variables, including other exposures, past and present cigarette use, formaldehyde-containing cosmetics use, etc. Thus, an accurate exposure level for a class representative has no bearing on an accurate exposure level for any other member of the proposed class because of these differing variables. Similarly, determining an individual’s risk of developing a particular formaldehyde-related disease or injury is keyed to several individual factors, including level of exposure, duration of exposure, and other individual characteristics such as whether the person has other risk factors for contracting a particular injury or disease.

Second, while the proposed medical monitoring sub-class would require the application of laws of “only” four different states, plaintiffs failed to make any substantial attempt to explain whether any individual variations in those states’ laws are manageable here, or whether they would “swamp common issues of law and fact.”

Next, the court found that plaintiffs’ proposed class was unorthodox in that it sought an order to monitor and treat the injuries that have resulted from that exposure. That is, a future medical services subclass should be certified to set up and maintain a program by which plaintiffs’ injuries may be detected and treated. Seemingly, plaintiffs went beyond the usual talk of treatment in the context of whether treatment exists such that monitoring could be beneficial, to essentially call for the development of a program aimed at also providing treatment to individuals (especially children) who have been adversely affected by hazardous levels of formaldehyde in the units.

But, by essentially requesting monitoring and treatment in the class, subclass members would arguably be relieved of the burden that they would bear in an individual suit, relative to proving any current manifest injury or disease. The court agrees found that plaintiffs were indeed attempting to skip over the process of obtaining the requisite liability finding against the manufacturing defendants, by holding them responsible for funding a monitoring and treatment service for injuries that a jury may later deem was never their responsibility. In other words, the monitoring program requested by plaintiffs seems to bypass a liability finding on injury in favor of immediate medical monitoring and treatment, both. Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate to the court why defendants should be asked to pay for such a program without, first, a finding of liability against them.

Finally, defendants contended that plaintiffs, as a group, did not meet the “manifest physical injury” requirement, which they asserted is a prerequisite for medical monitoring in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, asserted that they meet this requirement because the physical injury they claim to have suffered is in the form of “cellular and molecular” damage. Even without addressing the issue whether such cellular damage qualifies as a manifest present injury, the court felt it would still be faced with the individualized inquiry of whether formaldehyde exposure resulting from the units caused those “injuries.” This is not an issue that can be determined on a class-wide basis.

Accordingly, the medical monitoring class claims involved too many individual issues.

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