Causation Expert Testimony in Toxic Tort Exposure Case Not Allowed

Plaintiff claims that she was exposed to toxic substances while working for Defendant.  Defendant filed motion to exclude the testimony from her three expert witness.  The court granted the motion.

Facts: This personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit (Konrick v. Exxon Mobil Corporation et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Louisiana – February 4th, 2016) involves an alleged toxic tort exposure by the Plaintiff (Konrick).  She states that while pregnant and working as a security guard at Defendant’s Exxon Chalmette Refinery, she was exposed to numerous toxic substances, including benzene and hydrogen sulfide.  Konrick alleges that this working environment caused her fetus to suffer injuries.  Specifically, a fetal demise and stillbirth delivery.  She also claims that Exxon negligently designed the refinery and failed to warn personnel of the reproductive hazards related to exposure.  Konrick hired three experts to provide testimony about the cause of injury to her and her fetus.  Those experts are Dr. Robert Harrison (occupational/environmental health expert witness), Dr. Cynthia Bearer (neonatology expert witness), and Dr. Laurel Waters (radiology/nuclear medicine expert witness).  Exxon filed a motion to exclude these experts as there is no scientific basis for concluding that the numerous chemicals identified by an exposure expert can cause a stillbirth at 27 weeks.

Discussion:  Before delving into the specific testimony of the experts at issues, the court summarized numerous reasons why causation opinions based on epidemiological and other scientific methods have been excluded.  First studies that do not show statistically significant results. Second, a study that provides a mere suggestion of a possibility that a relationship exists. Third, if a subject was exposed to numerous potential substances.  Fourth, if the authors of the study disclaim causation in the written paper.

Now, we turn to the experts.  Dr. Harrison, in his report, stated that occupational exposure to organic solvents can cause deleterious reproductive outcomes.  He cited 29 epidemiological studies to come to his conclusion.  The court opined that his conclusions are not methodologically sound as he relies on numerous studies that do not support his conclusions.  First, he relies on studies that do not isolate the exposure to the substances at issue in the present case.  In addition, he uses studies that focus on spontaneous abortion or miscarriage, not the later stage loss in this case.  Third, he looked at studies that do not provide statistically significant results.  Last, he “cherry-picked” data, coming to conclusions that the authors of the studies did not make.

As for Dr. Cynthia Bearer, she declared in her testimony that there was a cause and effect relationship between certain chemicals and fetal demise.  Bearer cited to 19 epidemiological studies to reach her conclusions.  The court found her testimony to be inadmissible as well.   First, she relied on studies that have already been deemed inadmissible by the court.  In addition, she fails to explain her methodology.

Regarding Dr. Laurel Waters, she opined in her testimony that an increase in benzene is associated with a decrease in the head circumference and weight.  The court stated that the studies that she evaluated for this case do not “fit” her conclusions.  For example, she cites studies where there was a sudden abortion, which is not the same situation in the present case.  In addition, she also “cherry-picks” data to match her conclusions.  Thus, her testimony should be excluded.

Held: The causation testimonies of Dr. Robert Harrison, Dr. Cynthia Bearer, and Dr. Laurel Waters are excluded.  The Defendant’s motion is granted.