Georgia Supreme Court Reverses Lower Court’s Opinion Admitting Pathology Expert Witness Testimony

Court reverses lower court opinion (affirmed by the Court of Appeals) allowing the causation expert witness testimony of Dr. Jerrold Abraham.  Spaca argued that expert’s cumulative exposure theory dis not fit the legal standard of causation.  The Supreme Court agreed.

Facts:  This case (SCAPA DRYER FABRICS, INC. v. KNIGHT et al. – Georgia Supreme Court – July 5th, 2016) involves asbestos exposure.  Plaintiffs (Roy Knight and his wife) sued the defendants (Scapa) arguing that Knight’s diagnosis of mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to asbestos while working at the Waycross textile facility owned by Scapa.  In order to prove causation, Knight hired Dr. Jerrold Abraham (Pathology Expert Witness) to provide testimony.

Dr. Abraham opined that if Knight was exposed to asbestos at the facility, it was the cause of his mesothelioma, regardless of the amount of exposure.  He stated that any exposure to asbestos in excess of the small amount of asbestos that is naturally present in the air should be attributed to causing mesothelioma.  This is called cumulative exposure.

Scapa argued that this theory of cumulative exposure is not scientifically reliable, does not “fit” the legal requirements of causation under Georgia law;  thus, Abraham’s testimony should be excluded.

Discussion: The court agreed with Scapa, stating that Abraham’s cumulative exposure theory, that any exposure  to asbestos at the facility was the cause of Knight’s diagnosis of mesothelioma, regardless to the amount of exposure is not a “fit” to the legal standard of causation.  Thus, the testimony should be excluded.

The court then analyzed why it came this decision.  First, they outlined how Knight had to prove causation.  Knight had to show that the exposure to asbestos made a meaningful contribution to his mesothelioma, but not necessarily a meaningful one.  A de minimis causation theory is not sufficient under Georgia law.

The court continued by stating that, by his testimony outlining his cumulative exposure theory, Dr. Abraham basically told the jury that resolving the question as to the extent of asbestos exposure was not necessary.  That issue is not what the jury was charged with deciding, and, thus, was not helpful to them.  Dr. Abraham did not estimate the extent of the exposure in any way.  If he had provided reliable data to back up his theories, the court’s decision may have been different.  In point of fact, the court pointed to a case in which Dr. Abraham’s testimony was admitted because he backed up his theory with relevant evidence.

The court opined that Dr. Abraham did not case a final opinion on causation, telling the jury that if they found any exposure by Scapa. even de minimis, then causation is proper.   The purpose of his testimony should have been to provide facts and data to back up his theories so that the jury could make an informed decision.  Since his testimony did not provide any estimate of exposure, it was not helpful to the jury and. thus, inadmissible.

Conclusion:  The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the opinion of the trial and Court of Appeals.  Dr. Abraham’s testimony should have been excluded at trial.