U.S. Supreme Court rejects defendants’ appeal concerning expert testimony on causation
Attorneys at Dallas-based law firm Allen Stewart, P.C. applaud the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting the defendants’ appeal of a 2011 appellate decision that preserves the right of a leukemia victim to show at trial that benzene exposure caused his cancer.
In this case, Allen Stewart, P.C. attorneys represented Brian Milward, a refrigerator technician who developed Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (“APL”) caused by years of exposure to benzene used in products manufactured by the defendants. The defendants—The Sherwin-Williams Co., U.S. Steel Corp., Rust-oleum Corp., and The Clorox Company, among others—persuaded the trial court to exclude testimony by the plaintiff’s expert that benzene exposure can cause APL, the particular type of leukemia suffered by Mr. Milward. Judgment was then entered for the defendants.
In March 2011, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, finding that the expert used a universally accepted method of scientific reasoning when he relied on “the weight of the evidence” to conclude that benzene court cause APL. In a 33-page opinion, the First Circuit also detailed the role of the trial court as “gatekeeper” over the admissibility of scientific testimony versus the jury’s role as fact-finder in questions of causation and other questions of fact. Because the Supreme Court has refused to review the court of appeal’s decision, the case will go back to the trial court for further proceedings.
“We are very pleased with this result,” said Al Stewart, founder of the law firm. “The Milwards are entitled to their day in court, and we will continue to fight until they receive the justice they deserve.”
In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. that trial court judges have a limited “gatekeeping” role over admissibility of expert testimony. In two decades since the Daubert opinion was issued, such challenges have become extremely popular with chemical companies and other industrial defendants and their supporters—organizations such as the Product Liability Advisory Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which filed briefs in this case supporting the defendants’ appeal. When a defendant succeeds in a “Daubert challenge,” it may be able to avoid going to trial entirely. The decision of the First Circuit makes clear, however, that judges cannot exclude expert testimony that is supported by generally accepted methods of scientific reasoning. If the evidence is supported by generally accepted scientific methods, the jury must be allowed to weigh the evidence and draw its own conclusions regarding causation and other fact questions.
“These companies have tried to drive a wedge between reliable scientific knowledge as it is understood by scientists and as it is recognized and understood in the courtroom, distorting science for their own benefit,” said Allen Stewart, P.C. attorney Steve Baughman Jensen, who represented the Milwards on appeal. “The decision of the First Circuit and now the Supreme Court are significant in their defense of valid scientific method.”