Tort Causation 101

Smith v. Christus St. Michaels presented a wrongful death claim about an elderly man, who suffered from recurrent cancer, who died from a fall in the hospital while being treated for a blood disorder.  No. 12-40057 (Nov. 13, 2012) (unpublished).  The trial court granted summary judgment under the “lost chance” doctrine, finding a lack of evidence that the man would have been likely to survive his cancer.  The Fifth Circuit reversed because it found his death was caused by a fall unrelated to his cancer or other treatment protocol.  Id. at 8. The Court also reversed a ruling that the plaintiffs’ expert testimony on causation was conclusory, finding that it “sufficiently explained how and why” as to the allegedly inadequate monitoring of the patient’s bedside at night.  Id. at 10.  The opinion provides a general nuts-and-bolts summary of Texas tort causation law.

Injury verdict affirmed over Daubert challenges

Roman v. Western Manufacturing examined a $1mm-plus verdict about severe injuries from a pump malfunction.  No. 10-31271 (Aug. 17, 2012).  After review of the standards, id. at 5 (“It is not our charge to decide which side has the more persuasive case.”), the Court found that two qualified mechanical engineers met Daubert even though they lacked extensive experience with “stucco pumps,” declining to “make expert certification decisions a battle of labels.”  Id. at 7.  The Court also rejected technical challenges to the type of pump reviewed by the experts and the plausibility of their factual assumptions about its operation, id. at 13 (“There was certainly contrary evidence, but that was for jurors to weigh.”), as well as sufficiency challenges about the inferences made by the jury.  Id. at 16-17.  Additional challenges were found waived under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50.  This opinion is the latest in a series of thoughtful cases about Daubert after the 2009 decision in Huss v. Gayden.

Daubert rulings in toxic tort case

The Court reviewed several Daubert rulings in the toxic tort case of Johnson v. Arkema, Inc., No. 11-50193 (June 20, 2012).  Under an abuse-of-discretion standard, it affirmed the exclusion of experts based on weaknesses in reliance upon (1) analysis of whether the materials at issue belonged to a “class of chemicals” known to cause disease; (2) state and federal exposure guidelines; (3) animal studies; and (4) the “temporal connection” between exposure and illness.  Op. at at 8-20.  The Court then affirmed the exclusion of an opinion based on a “differential diagnosis,” concluding that it was based on an unreliable presumption about general causation.  Id. at 22.  The Court concluded by reversing on a causation issue that did not require expert testimony, finding that the temporal connection between exposure and certain chronic injuries was close enough to allow trial — while also finding that the connection was to attenuated as to related chronic injuries.  Id. at 26.  A dissent took issue with the majority’s reasoning as to one well-credentialed toxicology expert.  Id. at 29.