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Klein v. Dow Corning Corp.


October 1, 1981


Appeal from summary judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Weinstein, Ch.J., dismissing plaintiff's suit as time barred under New York's statute of limitations, CPLR 214(5). Plaintiff brought a product liability claim alleging injury from defendant's breast prostheses implanted in plaintiff's chest fourteen years before suit. The district court held the statute of limitations began to run upon implantation. Reversed and remanded.


Per Curiam :

Joy Klein of New York sued Dow Corning, Inc., of Michigan, fourteen years after Dow Corning products were surgically implanted in her breasts but approximately one year after the implants allegedly burst or ruptured. Sitting in diversity jurisdiction, the district court applied New York law,*fn1 and dismissed the suit on summary judgment as time barred. The court held that the statute of limitations ran from the date of injury, which the court interpreted as the date of implantation. We reverse.

The following facts are asserted by the plaintiff and not contested by the defendant. Dow Corning produced the Silastic Mammary Prosthesis, which was a bag containing a gel. The bag and gel were made of the same silicone synthetic, but the gel was less dense than the bag. Drs. S. W. Scarborough (since deceased) and Hans Wilhelmsen implanted Dow prostheses in plaintiff's breasts on September 30, 1965 at Maryland General Hospital. Plaintiff claims that she was injured when the prostheses burst in April 1978. Surgery to remove the implants was performed in August 1979. Plaintiff filed suit on December 19, 1979 for $10 million in damages on theories of negligence, strict liability and warranty. After dismissing the tort claims as time barred, the district court dismissed the warranty claims because plaintiff was not in privity with Dow and the prostheses were sold in 1967, when New York law still required privity. Martin v. Julius Dierck Equipment Co ., 43 N.Y.2d 583, 591, 374 N.E.2d 97, 101, 403 N.Y.S.2d 185, 189 (1978). Plaintiff appeals only from the dismissal of her causes of action alleging negligence and strict liability. Defendant argues that under New York law plaintiff's injuries occurred upon implantation of the prostheses in 1965.

New York law gives product liability plaintiffs three years to assert claims in negligence and strict liability.

CPLR 214(5); Victorson v. Bock Laundry Co ., 37 N.Y.2d 395, 335 N.E.2d 275, 373 N.Y.S.2d 39 (1975). Clearly a plaintiff has no claim until injury occurs. If the Dow implants began to injure plaintiff after December 19, 1976, her suit is timely. There is no proof in the record that injury occurred upon implantation. Nor does defendant allege that injury actually occurred upon implantation. Therefore we cannot agree with the district court's conclusion that the statute began to run upon the implantation of the Dow prostheses in 1965.

Our decision is supported by Murphy v. St. Charles Hospital, 35 A.D.2d 64, 312 N.Y.S.2d 978 (2d Dept. 1970), holding that where injury was allegedly caused by the breaking of a prosthesis inserted years earlier, "the plaintiff's cause of action could not have accrued before the prosthesis broke because a necessary element of the cause of action -- injury -- had not yet occurred." 35 A.D.2d at 67, 312 N.Y.S.2d at 980. This rationale is consistent with Thornton v. Roosevelt Hospital, 47 N.Y.2d 780, 391 N.E.2d 1002, 417 N.Y.S.2d 920 (1979). Thornton held that where plaintiff complained of damage from injection of a toxic chemical, the statute of limitations runs from the date of injection. The district court equated Thornton's date of injection with date of implantation here. But in Thornton, injection and injury were concurrent. The chemical began its damage immediately. Here damage occurred only when the prostheses burst.*fn2 That is when plaintiff's claim accrued. To hold otherwise would start the statute running on plaintiff's complaint before she had any injury of which to complain.*fn3

Reversed and remanded.

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