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Donovan v. Phillip Morris USA, Inc.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
914 N.E.2d 891 (2009)


Facts

Donovan (plaintiff) was a habitual smoker of cigarettes manufactured by Phillip Morris USA, Inc. (Morris) (defendant). Donovan brought a class-action negligence lawsuit against Morris in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Donovan did not have cancer, but claimed that Morris’s cigarettes damaged her lungs at the cellular level, thus significantly increasing her risk of lung cancer. Donovan presented evidence of physiological changes that resulted from smoking, as well as expert testimony establishing that those changes resulted in a substantially increased risk of her contracting lung cancer. Donovan sought a planned remedy under which Morris would pay for a medical screening program (overseen by the court) to help with the early detection of lung cancer. Morris filed a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Donovan was required to prove a current physical injury  in order to maintain a negligence suit. The district court certified the issue to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, asking whether a plaintiff’s claim for medical monitoring based on subcellular effects of exposure to cigarette smoke that increased the risk of lung cancer was cognizable. 

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Spina, J.)

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  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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