Monday, November 11, 2013

Potter v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. case brief

Potter v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. case brief summary
863 P.2d 795 (1993)

Appellant manufacturer sought review of an affirmance by the Court of Appeals (California), of the trial court's award in favor of respondent residents on their claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The residents were awarded damages for their fear of cancer, which included punitive damages, but the award for future medical monitoring was reversed.


The residents lived near a landfill where the manufacturer dumped toxic wastes. The residents won a judgment against the manufacturer for on negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, based on the residents' fear of developing cancer as a result of their exposure to the toxic waste. The appeals court affirmed the awards, but reversed as to the damages for future medical monitoring.


  • On further review, the court reversed the award of punitive damages and for damages due to the residents' fear of developing cancer. 
  • The court held that because the toxic exposure resulted from oppression, fraud, or malice, under Cal. Civ. Code § 3294, the residents could recover without having to show that it was more likely than not that they would develop cancer from the exposure. 
  • The court held that medical monitoring costs were a compensable item of damages because the residents demonstrated that the need for medical monitoring was a reasonably certain consequence of toxic exposure. 
  • Finally, the court held that where a portion of the fear of cancer was attributable to smoking, comparative fault principles could be applied.


The court reversed the judgment of the appeals court which awarded damages to the residents for their fear of getting cancer, and as to the punitive award, and reinstated the trial court's damages to them for future medical monitoring due to exposure from the manufacturer. The matter was remanded for a retrial on the issue of damages and the issue of the manufacturer's liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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