Andrulonis v. US

Decision Date15 December 1989
Docket NumberNo. 79-CV-847.,79-CV-847.
PartiesJoanna ANDRULONIS, Individually, and as Conservator of the Property of Jerome Andrulonis, Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES of America; Glatt Air Techniques, Inc.; Glatt GmbH; Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Inc.; WARF Institute, Inc.; Raltech Scientific Services, Inc.; Ralston Purina Company; Eli Lilly and Company; and John L. Thompson and Sons and Company, Defendants. UNITED STATES of America, Third-Party Plaintiff, v. NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, Third-Party Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York










Roemer and Featherstonhaugh, Albany, N.Y. (James D. Featherstonhaugh and John R. Mineaux, of counsel), for plaintiffs.

Dept. of Justice, Civ. Div., Torts Branch, Washington, D.C. (Leon Taranto and Anthony R. Sherr, Trial Attys., of counsel), and Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., U.S. Atty., N.D.N.Y., Albany, N.Y. (William Fanciullo, Asst. U.S. Atty., of counsel), for U.S.

Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen., State of N.Y., Albany, N.Y. (Kevan J. Acton and Robert Seigfried, Asst. Attys. Gen., of counsel), for defendant New York State Dept. of Health.

Anderson Russell Kill & Olick, P.C., New York City (R. Mark Keenan, of counsel), and Paul F. Donahue Associates, Albany, N.Y. (Alvin O. Sabo, of counsel), for defendant Glatt GmbH.

Carter, Conboy, Bardwell, Case and Blackmore, Albany, N.Y. (Philip J. Danaher, of counsel), for defendant Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

McNamee, Lochner, Titus & Williams, Albany, N.Y. (Earl H. Gallup, Jr., of counsel), for defendants Raltech Scientific Services, Inc. and Ralston Purina Co.

Maynard, O'Connor & Smith, Schenectady, N.Y. (Richard Gershon, of counsel), for defendant WARF Institute, Inc.

Ainsworth, Sullivan, Tracy and Knauf, Albany, N.Y. (Thomas F. Tracy, Frank J. Warner, Jr. and Margaret Comard Lynch, of counsel), for defendants Eli Lilly and Co. and John L. Thompson & Sons & Co.

Galef & Jacobs, New York City (Christopher M. Houlihan, of counsel), for defendant Glatt Air Techniques, Inc.


MUNSON, District Judge.

On March 29, 1977 the rabies virus invaded the body of plaintiff Jerome Andrulonis during an experiment conducted by his employer, the New York State Department of Health ("NYSDOH" or "the State"). The experiment was a part of the State's effort to develop a method for immunizing wildlife from the disease the virus causes. Shortly after being exposed to the virus, Andrulonis contracted the disease of rabies, and his central nervous system was ravaged. He survived the disease, thus becoming one of only three individuals in human history to do so, but the neurologic damage he suffered as a result of his illness left Andrulonis without the cognitive ability to appreciate this distinction.

On December 20, 1979 this action was commenced on behalf of Jerome Andrulonis and his wife, Joanna, against the United States of America ("United States" or "the Government") under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA" or "the Act"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680, and against various non-governmental defendants, over whom jurisdiction was predicated on diversity of citizenship or the pendant party doctrine. An amended complaint adding additional non-governmental defendants was filed on October 9, 1981. Plaintiffs' claims sounded in negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranty. The United States made cross-claims against the non-governmental defendants and filed a third-party complaint against NYSDOH, seeking contribution. See N.Y.C.P.L.R. §§ 1401-1404 (McKinney 1976). Subsequently, the court dismissed Joanna Andrulonis' derivative claims against the United States for failure to timely file an administrative claim, as required by the terms of the FTCA. Andrulonis v. United States, No. 79-CV-847, slip op. at 7 (N.D.N.Y. March 8, 1984); see 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a); see also id. § 2401(b).1 A trial on the remaining claims was conducted from February 18, 1987 until March 19, 1987. Before the end of the trial, plaintiffs entered into settlement agreements with all of the non-governmental parties,2 leaving unresolved the FTCA claims of plaintiff Jerome Andrulonis against the United States and the contribution claims made by the Government. This memorandum-decision constitutes the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the remaining claims.3See Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).


In some ways, the case of Jerome Andrulonis is aberrational. Andrulonis is believed to be the only person to contract the disease of rabies who prior to any exposure to live rabies virus had developed through vaccination a significant level of rabies antibodies in his blood stream. He is one of only two individuals in this century known to be infected after being exposed to the rabies virus in a laboratory setting. As will be seen, he is one of only four individuals in human history believed to have contracted the disease internasally, through what is referred to as the "aerosol route" or the "airborne route" of infection.4 Nonetheless, upon examination of what was known about the transmission of the virus by the researchers involved with the experiment of March 29, 1977, what was considered safe and reasonable laboratory practice in the relevant scientific community at that time, and the manner in which the March 29, 1977 experiment was performed, it can only be concluded that Andrulonis' development of the rabies disease was the foreseeable and avoidable result of negligence on the part of the researchers involved with the project.

Because a lengthy narrative is to follow, a brief summary may give some context to the matters discussed. In March 1977 Jerome Andrulonis was a thirty-four year old senior bacteriologist employed by NYSDOH who was primarily involved with research conducted in the rabies laboratory at the State's Griffin Laboratory ("Griffin"), located near Albany, New York. Because he was constantly exposed to the rabies virus in his work, he had been immunized against the disease of rabies through the administration of a commercial vaccine manufactured by defendant Eli Lilly and Company ("Lilly") and distributed by defendant John L. Thompson and Sons and Company ("Thompson & Sons"). Periodically, Andrulonis received booster shots of the Lilly vaccine, which induced the creation of antibodies to the rabies virus in the blood stream ("serum antibodies"). The effectiveness of the Lilly vaccine was dependent on whether the rabies virus, once transmitted to an immunized individual, came into contact with serum antibodies before entering his central nervous system. In the typical case where the virus is transmitted to an individual by animal bite, the site of the bite wound is covered in the victim's blood, and the antibodies that had been created in the blood stream by the vaccine would have the opportunity to kill the invading virus. In the rare case where the virus is transmitted through the air and inhaled by the victim, however, the Lilly vaccine is probably ineffective. The olfactory nerves within an individual's nasal cavity are exposed to the air. If live rabies virus comes into contact with an individual's olfactory nerve and infects it, the virus could travel the short distance from the olfactory nerve to the victim's brain without ever coming into significant contact with serum antibodies.

At the time Andrulonis was exposed to the virus that ultimately caused his illness, he was attempting to coat sugar nonpareils5 with a solution containing live rabies virus. The coating process was accomplished through the use of a machine recommended by defendant WARF Institute, Inc. ("WARF").6 The machine, known as the "Uni-Glatt," suspended the sugar non-pareils in a stream of upflowing air while various solutions were sprayed onto them. The Uni-Glatt Machine was manufactured by defendant Glatt GmbH and distributed in the United States by defendant Glatt Air Techniques, Inc., and employed an air suspension process that had been developed by Dale Wurster. The process created "aerosols," which are suspensions of microscopic solid or liquid particles in air or gas. The Uni-Glatt machine was not airtight, and when the solution containing live rabies virus was sprayed onto the nonpareils, aerosolized virus escaped from the Uni-Glatt and into the atmosphere of the rabies laboratory at Griffin. The virus was inhaled by Andrulonis, apparently infected one of his olfactory nerves, and then multiplied and travelled from his olfactory nerve to his brain, causing severe and permanent damage.

The experiment in question was conducted under the supervision of Dr. John G. Debbie, a research scientist employed by NYSDOH. Also present during the experiment was Dr. George M. Baer, Chief of the Viral Zoonosis Branch and Rabies Laboratory at the Center for Disease Control ("CDC"), who conducted most of his work in the CDC's laboratories in Atlanta and Lawrenceville, Georgia. The CDC is a part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and in March 1977 was a subunit of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The experiment was conducted in furtherance of a joint effort by scientists at NYSDOH and the CDC to develop a method for the mass immunization of wildlife from rabies. During the course of this effort, Debbie requested Baer to prepare a solution of highly concentrated rabies virus for experimental use in the Uni-Glatt machine. The virus "strain" Baer prepared at the CDC's laboratory in Lawrenceville in response to this request was supplied to Debbie on March 28, 1977 and used in the Uni-Glatt machine the next day. At the time of the March 29, 1977 experiment, it was not known whether...

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