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December 27, 2013

Bill Essig Publishes Article in IADC Drug, Device Committee Newsletter

Chicago partner Bill Essig authored an article for the International Association of Defense Counsel Drug, Device and Biotechnology Committee Newsletter titled, “Pennsylvania Superior Court Decision Toughens Standard for Admissibility of Expert Testimony.”

In Snizavich v. Rohm and Haas Co., the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s preclusion of the plaintiff’s causation expert and the resulting summary judgment for defendant.  The court held that the expert’s causation opinion failed to rely on any external scientific authority – whether facts, empirical studies, or the expert’s own research – in support of his opinion, and thus his subjective assessment of causation was properly precluded by the trial court.

The decedent had worked for a contractor as a pipefitter, spending much of his time over 13 years at Defendant Rohm and Haas’s Spring House Facility. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2005, died in 2008 and his wife filed suit in April 2009, alleging that his cancer was caused by exposure to chemicals while working at Spring House. The defendant brought a motion to preclude the testimony of Plaintiff’s causation expert, Dr. Thomas H. Milby, M.D., which the trial court granted and then granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

The trial court was “especially troubled” by Dr. Milby’s reliance on a University of Minnesota epidemiological report which reviewed brain cancer cases that had been reported at Spring House. While the Minnesota Report found that there was a statistically significant increase in reported brain cancer cases among workers at Spring House, the Minnesota Report “was inconclusive as to both the cause of the brain cancer found in the Spring House workers and the relationship between the chemicals and increased incidence of brain cancer.” 

The trial court held that the Milby Report “seems to be little more than an unscientific lay opinion given by someone who happens to be a medical doctor,” and would not assist the trier of fact because it “contained no evidence, causal or otherwise, linking the decedent’s brain cancer to the Spring House facility.”

The rule of admissibility for expert testimony is that: “the minimal threshold that expert testimony must meet to qualify as an expert opinion rather than merely an opinion expressed by an expert, is this: the proffered expert testimony must point to, rely on or cite some scientific authority – whether facts, empirical studies, or the expert’s own research – that the expert has applied to the facts at hand and which supports the expert’s ultimate conclusion.”

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