Carlin v. Superior Court

Decision Date30 August 1996
Docket NumberNo. S045912,S045912
Citation13 Cal.4th 1104,56 Cal.Rptr.2d 162,920 P.2d 1347
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 920 P.2d 1347, 65 USLW 2187, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 14,718, 96 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 6562, 96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 10,737 Wilma Peggy CARLIN, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Sutter County, Respondent; The UPJOHN COMPANY, Real Party In Interest.

Wilcoxen, Callahan, Montgomery & Harbison, Callahan & Deacon, Gary B. Callahan, E.S. Deacon and Judith Clark Martin, Sacramento, for Petitioner.

Joseph L. Dunn, Costa Mesa, and Gary L. Wilson, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Todd W. Kingma, Kalamazoo, MI, Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, Michael F. Healy, Frederick D. Baker, Kirk C. Jenkins, San Francisco, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Marie S. Woodbury and Stephen E. Scheve, Kansas City, MO, for Real Party in Interest.

Catherine I. Hanson, San Fransisco, Fred J. Hiestand, Sacramento, Marjorie E. Powell, Washington, DC, Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May, Peter W. Davis, Oakland, James C. Martin, Los Angeles, Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, Steve Merksamer, Sacramento, John E. Mueller, Mill Valley, James C. Gross, Gene Erbin, Sacramento, Dickson, Carlson & Campillo, Hall R. Marston, Santa Monica, and David R. Venderbush, Los Angeles, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.

MOSK, Acting Chief Justice.

In this case we address the question whether a plaintiff alleging injury from ingesting a prescription drug can state a claim against the manufacturer for strict liability and breach of warranty for failure to warn about the known or reasonably scientifically knowable dangerous propensities of its product. We conclude that she can.

In our recent decision in Anderson v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1991) 53 Cal.3d 987, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549 (hereafter Anderson ), we held generally that manufacturers are strictly liable for injuries caused by their failure to give warning of dangers that were known to the scientific community at the time they manufactured and distributed the product: "Whatever may be reasonable from the point of view of the manufacturer, the user of the product must be given the option either to refrain from using the product at all or to use it in such a way as to minimize the degree of danger." (Id. at p. 1003, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549.) In so doing, we expressly applied to manufacturers of all products the same rule of strict liability for failure to warn of known or reasonably scientifically knowable risks that we previously applied specifically to manufacturers of prescription drugs. (Id. at p. 1000, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549); see Brown v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1049, 245 Cal.Rptr. 412, 751 P.2d 470 (hereafter Brown.) The Upjohn Company (hereafter Upjohn), a manufacturer of prescription drugs, urges us to now reject the strict liability standard under Anderson for cases involving failure to warn of known or reasonably scientifically knowable risks from prescription drugs, and adopt a new standard of simple negligence for that industry only. We discern no sound basis for doing so. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

I.

Plaintiff Wilma Peggy Carlin (hereafter Carlin) brought an action for damages against Upjohn for injuries she assertedly sustained from ingesting the drug Halcion, which was prescribed for her by a physician between 1987 and 1992. She claimed, as relevant here, that Upjohn was strictly liable for failing "properly to prepare and/or warn of the dangerous propensities of Halcion." She specifically alleged that Upjohn "knew that the drug Halcion was defective ... [,] that those who were prescribed Halcion and took the same would experience, and did experience, severe physical, mental, and emotional damages/injuries and yet, notwithstanding this knowledge, [it] despicably, and in willful and conscious disregard of the safety of those who were prescribed Halcion and of the plaintiff herein, without giving any notice of the defect to the purchasers of Halcion, placed and persisted in placing Halcion into the stream of commerce...." She also claimed that Upjohn was liable for breach of warranty. She alleged that it "expressly and impliedly warranted to the physicians and their health-care patients that Halcion was a prescription drug fit for the use for which it was intended and was of merchantable quality" despite the fact that the product "was unfit and unsafe for ingestion by health-care patients in light of its known propensity to cause serious side-effects, including, but not limited to, physical, mental and emotional injuries to persons ingesting Halcion...."

Upjohn demurred, alleging, inter alia, that Carlin failed to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action for strict liability or for breach of warranty. It argued that, under California law, no cause of action for strict liability or breach of warranty can be stated against a prescription drug manufacturer based on failure to warn. The superior court sustained the demurrer as to those causes of action without leave to amend. Carlin petitioned for a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal issued an alternative writ of mandate; after briefing and oral argument, it issued a peremptory writ of mandate, directing the superior court to vacate its order sustaining the demurrer to the causes of action for strict liability and breach of warranty and to enter a new order overruling the demurrer. We granted review.

II.

Upjohn contends that the Court of Appeal erred in vacating the superior court's order sustaining a demurrer on Carlin's cause of action for strict liability for failure to warn. It argues that California courts have "long refused to expand the scope of potential liability of prescription pharmaceutical manufacturers beyond traditional negligence principles." Not so. In prior cases, we have expressly and repeatedly applied a strict liability standard to manufacturers of prescription drugs for failure to warn of known or reasonably scientifically knowable risks. We merely reaffirm those precedents here.

In Anderson, we summarized prior case law and outlined the general principles of strict liability as they have been applied by California courts for over three decades. (Anderson, supra, 53 Cal.3d at pp. 994-1003, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549.) As we explained therein, under our doctrine of strict liability, first announced in Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 Cal.2d 57, 27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 377 P.2d 897, a manufacturer " 'is strictly liable in tort when an article he places on the market, knowing that it is to be used without inspection for defects, proves to have a defect that causes injury to a human being.' ... 'The purpose of such liability is to insure that the costs of injuries resulting from defective products are borne by the manufacturers that put such products on the market rather than by the injured persons who are powerless to protect themselves.' ... [p] Strict liability, however, was never intended to make the manufacturer or distributor of a product its insurer. 'From its inception, ... strict liability has never been, and is not now, absolute liability ...'... [p] Strict liability has been invoked for three types of defects--manufacturing defects, design defects, and 'warning defects,' i.e., inadequate warnings or failures to warn." (Anderson, supra, 53 Cal.3d at pp. 994-995, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549; see Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 413, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443.)

We specifically addressed the issue "whether knowledge, actual or constructive, is a component of strict liability on the failure-to-warn theory." (Anderson, supra, 53 Cal.3d at p. 990, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549.) We concluded that it is. "The California courts, either expressly or by implication, have to date required knowledge, actual or constructive, of potential risk or danger before imposing strict liability for a failure to warn." (Id. at p. 991, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549) We affirmed that "California is well settled into the majority view that ... [p] ... knowledge or knowability is a component of strict liability for failure to warn." (Id. at p. 1000, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549.)

Although Anderson involved an action against a manufacturer of asbestos, we relied extensively on cases involving a variety of products, including prescription drugs. In particular, we were guided by our prior decision in Brown, supra, 44 Cal.3d 1049, 245 Cal.Rptr. 412, 751 P.2d 470, in which we refused to extend strict liability to the failure to warn of risks that were unknown or unknowable at the time of distribution. "As we stated [in Brown ], if a manufacturer could not count on limiting its liability to risks that were known or knowable at the time of manufacture or distribution, it would be discouraged from developing new and improved products for fear that later significant advances in scientific knowledge would increase its liability.... [A] manufacturer is not strictly liable for injuries caused by a prescription drug so long as it was properly prepared and accompanied by warnings of its dangerous propensities that were either known or scientifically knowable at the time of distribution." (Anderson, supra, 53 Cal.3d at p. 999, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549.) We concluded that the holding in Brown applied to all products, not only to prescription drugs: "Brown 's logic and common sense are not limited to drugs. In recognizing the extent to which the majority rule pervades California precedents in both drug and nondrug cases, Brown clearly implied that knowledge is also a component of strict liability for failure to warn in cases other than prescription drug cases." (Id. at p. 1000, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549; see also Vermeulen v. Superior Court (1988) 204 Cal.App.3d 1192, 1206, 251 Cal.Rptr. 805 ["We ... do not interpret Brown 's analysis of...

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