Recently, Stark & Stark’s Mass Tort team successfully argued for the reinstatement of two dozen previously dismissed wrongful death claims against Bristol-Myers Squibb.  U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert ruled that federal toxic tort law preempts any limitations period in New Jersey’s Wrongful Death Act. Originally, it had been held that the time that plaintiffs had to file their claims was restricted to two years after death. This latest ruling expands the time to when plaintiffs knew, or reasonably should have known, that Bristol-Myers Squibb caused the plaintiffs’ deaths.

In these cases, plaintiffs allege that Bristol-Myers Squibb knew that its manufacturing facility in New Brunswick, New Jersey, had contaminated the surrounding working class neighborhood for several decades, but failed to notify residents. Plaintiffs further allege that they had no way of knowing the extent of toxic contaminants discharged into their neighborhood by Bristol-Myers Squibb, including chromium, arsenic and chlorinated solvents.

Judge Arpert’s ruling allows 24 families, who were previously barred from seeking compensation, the ability to have their case heard and adjudicated. You can read coverage of Judge Arpert’s decision here and here.

This lawsuit consists of hundreds of plaintiffs that have lived or worked for an extended period of time in close proximity to the 90-acre Bristol-Myers Squibb New Brunswick pharmaceutical plant (the “BMS Site”). See New Jersey Judiciary official website. The BMS Site has been an active pharmaceutical research, development and manufacturing facility since it began operation in the early 1900’s. Since its inception, the BMS Site has been involved in the production of numerous pharmaceuticals and was, at various times, one of the world’s largest manufacturing sites for certain categories of popular pharmaceuticals (such as arsenic-based medications and antibiotics). This resulted in the generation of enormous amounts of pharmaceutical products, byproducts and wastes. These materials were released into the atmosphere, water and soil in and around the BMS Site, over the course of several decades.

BMS and its own remediation contractors have discovered numerous toxic and deadly compounds on the BMS Site, including various forms of volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. The plaintiffs claim that such contamination has extended off of the BMS Site, through the air, soil, ground and surface water. The plaintiffs further contend that they have been exposed to the toxins from inhalation, ingestion and dermal exposure to the air, soil and water, laden with the toxins. As a result, many plaintiffs claim to have suffered grave injuries, including categories of cancers and diseases affecting the major organs and organ systems, related to such toxic exposure. Other plaintiffs claim to be subject to an unaddressed heightened risk of developing such conditions and/or have had their property damaged through years of accumulated contamination.