Trial Judge Tosses Jury Verdict in Talcum Powder Mass-Tort Suit for Lack of Causation

RobertWrightFeatured Expert Contributor, Mass Torts—Asbestos

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

In a case that has generated national publicity, Judge Maren E. Nelson of the Los Angeles County Superior Court granted Johnson & Johnson’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict after a jury awarded plaintiff $417 million, including $347 million in punitive damages, in a case alleging injury from exposure to talc.  (See Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Cases, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC628228, JCCP No. 4872, Oct. 20, 2017 Order.)

The trial court’s order is significant in several respects, but in particular because it rejects plaintiff’s attempt to establish causation based on epidemiologic studies that do not show a relative risk of at least 2.0 for the specific cancer alleged by plaintiff. Continue reading “Trial Judge Tosses Jury Verdict in Talcum Powder Mass-Tort Suit for Lack of Causation”

No “Daubert”-Style Gatekeeping in Alabama for Expert Testimony Based on Technical or Specialized Knowledge

Featured Expert Contributor, Judicial Gatekeeping of Expert Evidence

By Tager_09181Evan M. Tager, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Mayer Brown LLP, with Carl J. Summers, an Associate with Mayer Brown LLP.

In federal courts, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. applies not only to scientific testimony but also to technical and other specialized knowledge. That principle stems from the text of Federal Rule of Evidence 702(a)—which expressly references an “expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge”—and the US Supreme Court’s holding in Kumho Tire v. Carmichael, which extended Daubert’s gatekeeping responsibilities to technical and specialized knowledge. Put simply, Daubert provides a generally applicable rule for how federal judges should ascertain the reliability of expert testimony.

The same is not true in Alabama. In 2011, the Alabama Legislature adopted the Daubert standard and modified Alabama Rule of Evidence 702 to provide: Continue reading “No “Daubert”-Style Gatekeeping in Alabama for Expert Testimony Based on Technical or Specialized Knowledge”

Uncommon Defects and Unreliable Methods: U.S. District Court Effectively Applies ‘Daubert’ to Deny Class Certification

Featured Expert Column–Judicial Gatekeeping of Expert Evidence

Tager_09181Evan M. Tager, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Mayer Brown LLP, with Carl J. Summers, an Associate with Mayer Brown LLP.

In many civil lawsuits, parties introduce expert testimony to help the jury decide questions of negligence or causation. In class actions, expert testimony is also often employed to help the court answer questions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, such as whether a class is ascertainable or to develop a formula for awarding damages on a class-wide basis. In Kljajic v. Whirlpool Corp., the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (St. Eve, J.) addressed the intersection of Daubert and Rule 23’s commonality and predominance requirements.

Under Rule 23(a), a plaintiff must show that there are questions of law or fact common to the class. And plaintiffs who seek certification under Rule 23(b)(3) must satisfy the more demanding predominance requirement, which looks to whether the common issues in the case are more important than the individualized issues. These two requirements are similar, and expert testimony can shed light on whether a case can be maintained as a class action. Continue reading “Uncommon Defects and Unreliable Methods: U.S. District Court Effectively Applies ‘Daubert’ to Deny Class Certification”

Third Circuit Rejects Plaintiffs’ Attempt to Lower “Daubert” Standard in “In re Zoloft Products Liability Litigation”

Featured Expert Column –Judicial Gatekeeping of Expert Evidence

Tager_09181Evan M. Tager, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Mayer Brown LLP, with Carl J. Summers, an Associate with Mayer Brown LLP.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently rejected an attempt to substantially lower the standard for admission of expert testimony resting on studies that have not produced replicated and statistically significant findings. Specifically, the plaintiffs in In re Zoloft Products Liability Litigation argued that the district court erroneously imposed a rigid, bright-line rule that an expert must present replicable, statistically significant findings. The Third Circuit held that the district court had not established such a bright-line rule, but rather had made a factual finding that teratologists—scientists who study abnormalities in human development—“generally required replication of significant results.” After dispensing with the plaintiffs’ flawed interpretation of the district court’s decision, the Third Circuit affirmed the exclusion of the expert testimony on the ground that the expert had selectively chosen data that supported his opinion and inconsistently applied his methodology, thus rendering his opinions unreliable. Continue reading “Third Circuit Rejects Plaintiffs’ Attempt to Lower “Daubert” Standard in “In re Zoloft Products Liability Litigation””

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

Missouri Governor Signs Law Adopting “Daubert” Standard for Expert Testimony in State’s Courts

Featured Expert Column—Judicial Gatekeeping of Expert Evidence

Tager_09181Evan M. Tager, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Mayer Brown LLP, with Carl J. Summers, an Associate with Mayer Brown LLP.

In a victory for keeping junk science out of courtrooms, Missouri recently enacted H.B. 153, which adopts the Daubert standard.

H.B. 153 establishes four criteria for an expert witness’s testimony:

(1) The expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (2) The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (3) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (4) The expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

These criteria mirror Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard.

Although H.B. 153 applies broadly, it is not universally applicable. It does not apply in certain family and juvenile court proceedings. In addition, H.B. 153 does not permit an expert witness in a criminal case to testify “whether the defendant did or did not have a mental state or condition that constitutes an element of the crime charged or of a defense.” Continue reading “Missouri Governor Signs Law Adopting “Daubert” Standard for Expert Testimony in State’s Courts”

Reversing Four-Year Old Legislative Action, Florida Supreme Court Reduces Scrutiny of Expert Testimony

Featured Expert Column –Judicial Gatekeeping of Expert Evidence

Tager_09181Evan M. Tager, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Mayer Brown LLP, with Carl J. Summers, an Associate with Mayer Brown LLP.

In 2013, the Florida Legislature replaced the Frye standard with the Daubert standard by enacting statutory language that mirrors Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Presumably, that should have been the end of the matter. Daubert should now govern the admissibility of expert testimony in Florida state courts.

The Florida Supreme Court, however, has a history of rejecting procedural aspects of the Florida Evidence Code that the legislature enacts. To do so, the court invokes its authority over the rules of practice in Florida’s courts under Article V, Section 2(a) of the Florida Constitution. In February 2017, the court again exercised its constitutional prerogative over procedural aspects of the state court system and rejected the legislature’s adoption of the Daubert standard, citing “grave constitutional concerns.” In re: Amendments to the Florida Evidence Code. Thus, unless the legislature overturns the court’s decision by a two-thirds vote, Frye will continue to govern in Florida state courts. Continue reading “Reversing Four-Year Old Legislative Action, Florida Supreme Court Reduces Scrutiny of Expert Testimony”