To Each His Own … Law

In a ruling that could make legal cases more predictable for companies, a New Jersey court held that laws from other states could apply to different defendants in the same negligence case. The case involved a couple who was given incorrect information regarding their child’s chances of being born with Tay-Sachs.

The plaintiffs filed a wrongful birth claim, also known as a wrongful life claim, which is when a medical provider allegedly failed to warn parents of the risk of conceiving a child with serious genetic or congenital abnormalities. The father, who was misdiagnosed as not being a Tay-Sachs carrier, lived in New York and New Jersey. The plaintiffs sued a New Jersey licensed physician, a New Jersey hospital, and a New Jersey medical testing company. While the medical testing company was a New Jersey company, it received the father’s blood specimen in New York and issued its report on that sample in New York. The medical testing company then sued a New York hospital that actually performed the testing.

The medical testing company and New York hospital sought to apply New York law because it created a legal advantage. Based partly on 1) the expectations of the medical testing company and the New York hospital when the services were provided, and 2) the interests of New York and New Jersey in deterring certain conduct, the court adopted a defendant-by-defendant approach to the different laws that applied.

While this case only involved medical providers, the case overall could have more far reaching effects — if the same line of reasoning is applied to products that are meant to be used in a particular state. Since different states can have vastly different laws, manufacturers may be able to better predict risks by concentrating their legal risk analysis process on the laws of the state(s) where the product is being used.

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