Medical and scientific general causation experts presented by plaintiffs alleging that their exposure to friction products in DaimlerChrysler vehicles has caused or will cause asbestos-related disease are sufficiently reliable to pass muster under Daubert, a Delaware judge held May 9 (In Re: Asbestos Litigation, No. 77C-ASB-2, Del. Super., New Castle Co.).
New Castle County Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Slights III found that the plaintiffs’ experts adequately established for Daubert that chrysotile in friction products is the same as unrefined chrysotile. The experts appropriately relied on settled data from multiple disciplines that establish a scientifically significant positive association between exposure to chrysotile and development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, the judge said. Their methodology was sound and conclusions sufficiently reliable to be admitted.
No Epidemiology Required
Further, the judge held that occupation-specific epidemiology is not required to support these conclusions.
Defendant DaimlerChrysler argued that the manufacturing process renders chrysotile asbestos in friction products safe. It cited epidemiological evidence that exposure to automotive friction products does not increase the risk of disease. The automotive workers countered that chrysotile’s toxic properties are not significantly affected by its use in friction products, and their four experts concluded that exposure to such products increases the risk of contracting mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
Plaintiffs’ experts are Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D., a researcher specializing in biological electron microscopy; Dr. Samuel Hammar, a pathologist; Richard A. Lemen, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and industrial hygienist; and Dr. Arthur L. Frank, an occupational medicine physician with a doctorate in biomedical sciences. Dr. Michael Goodman, a physician and epidemiologist, is DaimlerChrysler’s expert.
The judge found that Dodson offered compelling and persuasive testimony regarding the similarity of friction products and unrefined chrysotile. He wrote a peer-reviewed paper regarding the comparison. Dodson also concluded that a significant amount of respirable chrysotile would be released during typical functions performed by mechanics during brake work. He cited studies to support his conclusion.
Although he was unable to confirm what occurs biologically or chemically inside the body when contact is made with a friction fiber, the judge said this does not render his opinion unreliable because no one in the scientific community has been able to do so.
The judge concluded that the plaintiffs demonstrated a sufficient basis to allow their experts to rely on Dodson’s body of evidence to support their conclusions that exposure to friction products increases the risk of disease. DaimlerChrysler, of course, can present contrary evidence, the judge said.
Judge Slights also found the other experts’ testimony admissible. Hammar discussed his clinical experience, which has been confirmed by other clinicians and animal studies. Hammar’s conclusions are soundly based in the scientific method, find support in peer-reviewed literature and appear to be sufficiently accepted by others in his field, the judge said.
Lemen’s opinions have been reviewed in published articles. His conclusions are based on scientific literature, including epidemiology; case reports, including his own 165 cases of mesothelioma in friction product users; human tissue studies; and animal studies. The judge found his reliance on substantial scientific evidence to be sufficiently reliable to meet Daubert standards.
Frank relied on his own observations as an occupational medicine physician in opining that patients who were exposed to enough asbestos to develop asbestosis would be at an increased risk for cancer. Some of his observations were reported in a peer-reviewed study. He also relied on extensive scientific data reporting the association between exposure to chrysotile and all asbestos-related diseases. The judge found his methodology sound.
The judge also concluded that DaimlerChrysler’s epidemiological evidence does not trump the plaintiffs’ science. Epidemiology is not a prerequisite to establishing general causation in a toxic tort case, the judge said. Other scientific evidence, if sufficiently relevant and reliable, may suffice, the judge said.
“Once the notion that ‘epidemiology trumps all’ is put to rest, the court’s conclusion regarding the reliability of the testimony of each of plaintiffs’ witnesses, as discussed above, is dispositive,” the judge said.
Counsel to the plaintiffs are John Spillane and Chris Panatier of Baron & Budd in Dallas; Cameron Wadell of Wadell and Wadell in Baton Rouge, La.; Ted Gianaris, William Kohlburn and Michael J. Angelides of Simmons Hanly Conroy in East Alton, Ill.; Ian Connor Bifferato of Bifferato, Biden, Gentilotti & Balick in Wilmington, Del.; and Thomas C. Crumplar of Jacobs & Crumplar in Wilmington.