The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that the trial court correctly granted summary judgment to DaimlerChrysler Corporation in two separate toxic exposure cases involving visiting workers at the company’s New Castle, Ind., facility. See Coomer v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., Ind. Ct. App., No. 33A01-0712-CV-582, 7/11/08); and Gregory v. DaimlerChrysler, Ind. Ct. App., No. 33A01-0712-CV-581, 7/11/08). In affirming the rulings of the Indiana Circuit Court, the Court of Appeals held that the expert in both cases, Dr. George Rogers, did not adequately specify the level, concentration, or duration of plaintiffs’ alleged exposure to unspecified chemicals. Accordingly, the workers failed to present sufficient expert evidence to establish causation.
Plaintiffs Matthew Gregory and Darrin Coomer were employees of Smoot Construction, and alleged they were doing work at the DaimlerChrysler New Castle Machining and Forging Facility. Three months after starting work, Coomer experienced a seizure while playing video games at home. Coomer’s treating neurologist diagnosed him with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME), the “most common genetic or inherited form of epilepsy . . . [which is] thought to be caused by an abnormal gene on the short arm of chromosome 6.” About 7 months after he began working, plaintiff Gregory, who was twenty-seven years old, allegedly experienced his first seizure after returning home from work. An IME showed he suffered from idiopathic seizure disorder.
Gregory and Coomer, in two separately filed complaints against Daimler/Chrysler Corp., Methadone Corp., and NC-M Chassis Systems LLC, alleged that the seizures were caused by their exposure to allegedly contaminated soil, water, and toxins at the facility. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the issue of causation. In response, plaintiffs presented their own expert, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacology/toxicology, who concluded that Coomer and Gregory were “clearly” exposed to a “complex mixture of potentially toxic materials.” The expert opined that many of the materials identified on the site, including some solvents and metals, can cause seizures with excess exposure. “I think it is reasonable to conclude that [plaintiffs’] occupational exposure to this mix of toxic chemicals may have contributed to the onset” of their disorders.
The Court of Appeals noted that an expert’s opinion is insufficient to establish causation when it is based only upon a temporal relationship between an event and a subsequent medical condition. In particular, when an expert witness testifies in a chemical exposure case that the exposure has caused a particular condition because the plaintiff was exposed and later experienced symptoms, without having analyzed the level, concentration or duration of the exposure to the chemicals in question, and without sufficiently accounting for the possibility of alternative causes, the expert’s opinion is insufficient to establish causation. Dr. Rodgers did not identify which chemicals plaintiffs were allegedly exposed to. He did not specify the level, concentration, or duration of their alleged exposure to the unspecified chemicals. Instead, Dr. Rodgers made vague assertions regarding plaintiffs’ alleged exposure to a mixture of “potentially toxic materials.” MassTortDefense has posted about the importance of evidence of dose here.
In toxic tort cases in Indiana, one way an expert may approach the causation issue is by way of a “differential diagnosis,” testing to rule out alternative causes of the plaintiff’s ailments. But the expert never addressed the independent medical examiner’s conclusion that Gregory had an idiopathic seizure disorder, and he also failed to address the possible impact of a skull fracture Gregory sustained in an accident as a child. The expert failed to respond to the fact that Coomer’s own physician concluded that Coomer’s seizures were the result of a genetic form of epilepsy.
In sum, because Dr. Rodgers did not identify specific chemicals, analyze the level, concentration, or duration of Coomer’s alleged exposure, or account for the possibility of alternative causes, his opinion was insufficient to establish causation.