Will the California Supreme Court Address the “Every Exposure” Theory of Causation?

Featured Expert Contributor: Mass Torts—Asbestos

RobertWrightRobert H. Wright, a Partner with Horvitz & Levy LLP in Los Angeles, CA

*This is the inaugural post for the WLF Legal Pulse’s newest Featured Expert Contributor. We are pleased to have Rob join our 7 other Featured Experts.

In conflict with many other jurisdictions, the intermediate appellate courts in California have allowed expert testimony in toxic tort cases based on an “every exposure” theory of causation (or its variants such as the “every identified exposure” theory).  Under that theory, even a minuscule exposure attributable to a defendant is by definition a substantial factor in causing disease, regardless of the circumstances of exposure or comparison to greater exposures attributable to other sources.  The California Supreme Court has been asked to grant review to decide the admissibility of such expert testimony in the case Phillips v. Honeywell International Inc., California Supreme Court Case No. S241544.

The “every exposure” theory typically arises in toxic tort cases involving latent diseases.  The causation standard is critical in low-dose exposure cases, which often turn on disputed evidence about sporadic exposure decades ago, and controversial opinions about whether low-dose exposures are capable of causing disease.  Although the issue arises most frequently in asbestos cases like Phillips, it can arise in any case in which the plaintiff claims injury from minute exposure to an alleged toxin.  Continue reading