Bristol-Myers Death Claims Get New Life
(CN) - Those blaming Bristol-Myers Squibb for the deaths of 24 people who lived or worked near its New Jersey plant may revise their wrongful-death claims, a federal magistrate judge ruled.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Arpert allowed the plaintiffs to amend their wrongful-death claims filed on behalf of 24 people who lived or worked near the pharmaceutical plant in New Brunswick.
More than 100 identical state-court lawsuits filed in 2008 blamed the pharmaceutical giant for exposing hundreds of neighbors and workers to harmful chemicals. The plaintiffs said the company knew contaminants were being discharged at the plant but hid that information from the public.
The state Supreme Court granted the case mass tort status, and 154 complaints have since been removed to Federal Court.
In April 2012, Bristol-Myers asked U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson to dismiss the 24 wrongful-death claims as untimely, because they were filed more than two years after the claimants died.
Wolfson dismissed them without prejudice in February and chided the plaintiffs for pleading the facts "in a generalized manner." She said the plaintiffs had to be more precise about "the date, time and place of the alleged fraud."
The plaintiffs then sought permission to amend their complaint a fourth time, but Arpert said the fraudulent-concealment claims suffered from some of the same problems.
"[P]laintiffs have again fallen short of the specificity obligations ... as well as Judge Wolfson's previous directives," he wrote, referring to their claims of fraudulent concealment.
"Though plaintiffs now provide more information on the contaminants and what particular information was concealed or destroyed, plaintiffs still fail to allege the specifics of the concealment to which they refer," Arpert later wrote. "Plaintiffs also provide more detail as to how BMS carried out the alleged fraudulent conduct."
While Arpert refused to let the plaintiffs tweak their fraudulent-concealment claims, he said they could amend their wrongful-death claims under federal environmental law.
The plaintiffs had argued that the filing deadlines of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, trumped the state's two-year statute of limitations for wrongful-death claims.
Arpert agreed that the plaintiffs "have pled sufficient facts ... to plausibly suggest CERCLA's application," and "were diligent in attempting to discover the cause of their injuries."
He granted their motion to amend for the wrongful-death claims only, saying he "need not engage in a more detailed analysis of the CERCLA claims at this stage."
"Should BMS wish to further challenge these claims, it is certainly free to do so by way of a summary judgment motion," Arpert added.
To date, 154 complaints have been removed to Federal Court, while 195 personal injury cases and roughly 105 separate medical monitoring cases are pending in state court, according to the ruling.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. reportedly netted more than $17.6 billion in sales last year.