NH Supreme Court decision on medical monitoring of people exposed to toxins

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that people exposed to toxic substances cannot attempt to recover the cost of medical tests from the polluter unless they are currently ill.

The ruling follows suit pending in a lower court alleging that people living near Merrimack’s Saint-Gobain manufacturing facility were exposed to PFOA, a PFAS chemical that may increase the risk of health problems. is derived from Among other demands, residents want the company to pay for medical surveillance for these potential illnesses.

The case is being debated in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire before Judge Joseph LaPlante. Laplante sent a question to the state Supreme Court for judgment: If someone was unduly exposed to a toxic substance in New Hampshire, the polluter could pay for the medical tests needed to monitor for potential illness. Could you be forced to pay?

At oral arguments in the lawsuit last November, Saint-Gobain’s attorneys said a current physical injury was required to be covered for testing and that granting a claim for medical monitoring would deviate from New Hampshire’s common law. claimed.

In a ruling issued this week, the Supreme Court agreed, saying that a person who does not currently have a physical injury cannot claim medical monitoring costs, even if it puts them at an increased risk of future illness. Stated.

States across the country are divided on whether to allow this type of lawsuit.

The Conservation Law Foundation filed an Amicus brief in this case on behalf of organizations advocating PFAS remediation and polluter liability. Foundation attorney Heidi Trimarco likened the request for medical monitoring to an X-ray of a broken arm in a car accident.

“People who are at fault in car accidents should pay for that x-ray, whether they have a broken arm or not. Just like an x-ray is a necessary medical test,” she said. .

According to Trimarco, it’s nothing new to expect someone who has harmed another person to pay for the medical tests that person needs.

At oral arguments in November, Saint-Gobain’s attorneys countered the x-ray examples, saying the presence of cuts and bruises in those cases indicated current injuries.

Trimarco said the court’s ruling was broad and not limited to this case alone. This means that people exposed to toxic substances will have to pay for their own medical monitoring in order to wait until they are likely to develop illness and try to recoup the costs from the polluter. increase.

“This is a fundamental fairness issue,” she said. “Pollutors who put toxic substances into the environment or people’s waters must be held accountable and held accountable for any medical examinations required as a result of the contamination.”

In 2020, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill opening the door to medical monitoring claims in state court. The Supreme Court cited its veto in its judgment.

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