Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Fear of Disease

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Fear of Disease

Article excerpt

The Fear of Disease. American judges appear to be opening the courthouse doors a bit wider. In recent cases plaintiffs have prevailed in lawsuits where they seek compensation for fear induced by the possibility that they or others will contract a future illness. The plaintiffs are entitled to money damages although they do not contend that the defendants, actions have actually caused disease. Most of the cases involve the fear of developing AIDS, but a few are based on so-called cancerphobia.

In Potter v. Firestone Tire, 27 December 1993, landowners living adjacent to a site used by Firestone as a toxic waste dumping ground prevailed in their claim that the company should compensate them for their fear of developing cancer. The California Supreme Court found that the landowners' prolonged exposure to the carcinogenic waste had resulted in a serious, genuine, and reasonable fear of contracting the disease. Firestone argued that this fear was not compensable without scientific proof that the feared cancer would actually develop in the future. The court disagreed, holding that if the cancer fear resulted from conduct amounting to "oppression, fraud, or malice," plaintiffs need not provide this evidence.

Criscuola v. Power Authority of the State of New York, 12 October 1993, also awarded damages based on the fear of cancer. However, in this case the New York Court of Appeals did not require evidence of the fear's reasonableness. Landowners claimed that the public fear of the potential health risks posed by high voltage power lines erected adjacent to their property had diminished the land's market value. They brought an eminent domain proceeding, arguing that the government agency responsible for erecting the lines must compensate them for this monetary loss. …

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