Woodill v. Parke Davis & Company
79 Ill.2d 26 (1980)
402 N.E.2d 194
ISSUE: The issue is whether or not the defendant is liable for failure to give warning of the potential danger that may be caused to the user of the product.
RULING: The Supreme Court held that in a failure to warn case, the important element that has to be proven is knowledge on the part of the defendant. Thus, the burden of proof that the defendant had known of the danger in using the product is shifted to the plaintiff.
ANALYSIS: In the case of spouses Woodill, the parents of the minor child filed a case against defendant Parke Davis and Company for manufacturing a harmful drug which had violated the law under strict liability in tort that entitled them to recover moral damages for the mental anguish that the child suffered.
The parents of the minor sought to file a tort case against the defendant to recover damages for the injuries that their child suffered as an effect if the drug known as “Pitocin”. The mother of the child was advised by her doctor to have intravenous infusion of the drug during the delivery of the child. After following the doctor’s orders, it resulted to brain damage, quadriplegia and the condition of permanent blindness to the child. The lawyers who represented the spouses alleged that administration of the drug “Pitocin” was the proximate cause of the injuries inflicted to the child. The lawyers further argued that the defendant manufacturer was strictly liable to the injuries suffered by the child after it failed to warn the doctor and patients of the possible hazards that may occur in using the drug. At the time the drug was infused to the mother, the fetus was still in high station, which rendered the drug to be unreasonably safe.
When the mother entered the hospital as an obstetrical patient, the fetus was in high station during that time. Since the mother followed the doctor’s order, she allowed to be infused with the drug in order to induce uterine contractions. The information of the product information did not prohibit the use of the drug for such purpose. After the mother’s normal delivery of the child, the child became quadriplegic and suffered from brain damage and blindness. The parents alleged that drug was the proximate cause of the injuries of the child and maintained that the defendant should be liable for tort when it failed to warn the patient of the drug’s potential danger. Hence, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant has knowledge of the possible risks or hazards that the drug can cause to the patients.
CONCLUSION: The ruling in this case is justified by providing a limit on the scope of liability on the part of manufacturer in accordance to the strict liability theory. To rule that a manufacturer is absolutely liable when it did not warn the doctors and patients of the possible danger of the “Pitocin” drug is misplaced. Thus, it is difficult and ridiculous to know on the basis of the current state of human knowledge to make the manufacturer liable. The strict liability rule should not be equated to absolute liability. Hence, there should be restrictions to be imposed since it is impossible to foresee or predict an injury on the part of the defendant. The court must not impose liability under the strict liability theory, where the plaintiff has knowledge of the risk of injury involved in using a product. In effect, when the plaintiff is aware that the use of a defective product may pose hazards or danger to his or her health, the manufacturer should be absolved from liability. At this point, it is the plaintiff who assumes the risk of using a defective product.
In applying the law, it is important to consider the fact that at the moment that the mother entered the hospital as a patient, the fetus inside her womb was considered to be in high station. It bears to stress the fact the product information did not prohibit the use of the drug for to induce the delivery of the child. The manufacturer of the drug was not also aware at that time that the drug may cause brain damage and blindness to the child. Thus, it cannot be liable for tort since it is does not have knowledge of the potential hazards of the drug to enable it to warn the patient.
Opinion: The Supreme Court was justified in ruling that for a failure to warn case to prosper, the essential element that must proven is the knowledge on the part of the defendant that the drug was hazardous to the health of the patient. Therefore, the burden of proof is shifted to the plaintiff to establish the fact that the defendant had knowledge that the danger existed at the time when the plaintiff used the product. The defendant cannot be liable under the principle of torts liability it was not aware of the potential hazards of the drug to enable it to warn the plaintiff.