Geology Expert Witness Testimony Excluded in Groundwater Contamination Litigation

Summary: Geology Expert Witness not allowed to provide testimony as the expert did not explain how his conclusions were more than guesses.

Facts:  This case (Varlen Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co – United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit – May 16th, 2019) involves groundwater contamination related to two industrial sites.  The defendant insurer refused to indemnify the plaintiff, so the plaintiff filed suit.  The plaintiff’s case turned on testimony from Daniel Rogers, a Geology Expert Witness who was excluded by the district court because he didn’t use reliable methodology.  The plaintiff appealed this opinion to the circuit court.

Discussion:  Rogers’s testimony is the only evidence that the plaintiff offered as to whether the contamination occurred in a sudden and accidental fashion.  The district court determined that Rogers’s testimony did not meet the requirements of admissibility under Daubert because it was not based on reliable methods or principles.  The appeals court concludes that the district court did not abuse its discretion in reaching that conclusion.

The court notes that Rogers tried to base his conclusions on inferences from qualities of the “plume” of contamination.  Thus, he looked at the size and scope of the contamination and worked backward to surmise how it must have occurred.  For example, he concluded that the contamination must have been sudden and accidental, as the contaminant mass must have been very large to create a plume with the size and concentration of the one at that site.

The court opines that Rogers did not explain why this data mattered or why his inferences were justified.  The court notes that Rogers stated that the data was an indication but acknowledged that it was not conclusive.  The court also opines that Rogers failed to demonstrate that his conclusions were anything more than guesses.

The court also states that in order to satisfy Daubert, Rogers needed to provide an explanation of how the evidence led to his conclusions.  In addition, he had to articulate a justification for his inference that the chemical spills were sudden and accidental beyond a simply saying so.

The court also concludes that the district court not no abuse its discretion in excluding Rogers’s testimony and report, and without Rogers’s report and testimony, there is no issue of material fact as to whether the contamination occurred suddenly and accidentally.

Conclusion:  The opinion of the district court excluding the expert witness testimony of Daniel Rogers is affirmed.