In the multidistrict product liability litigation over “Stand ‘n Seal,” a federal judge is allowing, over plaintiffs’ objections, testimony from the defendants’ causation experts. Judge Thomas W. Thrash of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has ruled that three experts, who opined that Stand ‘n Seal does not emit sufficient amounts of the chemical which plaintiffs allege caused their injuries, including chemical pneumonitis, may testify. In Re Stand ‘N Seal Products Liability Litigation, MDL NO. 1804 (N.D. Ga.).
Plaintiffs in the roughly 200 personal injury actions in the MDL assert that Stand ‘n Seal manufactured with Flexipel S-22WS caused respiratory problems. Stand ‘n Seal is a consumer product used to seal ceramic tile grout in kitchens, bathrooms, and similar areas. The advertised advantage of Stand ‘n Seal was that users can easily stand and spray the sealant onto the grout without the strain of using a brush and manually applying the sealant. The plaintiffs say that the
problems with Stand ‘n Seal began when the manufacturer changed its chemical components to include Flexipel.
Part of the defense has been the dose-response issue that plaintiffs could not have inhaled a harmful amount of the chemical while using Stand ‘n Seal as directed. The plaintiffs urged the court to exclude this expert testimony of Drs. Mark Rigler, William Longo, and Mitchell Sauerhoff. Rigler and Longo, industrial hygiene experts, tested samples of Stand ‘n Seal and concluded that plaintiffs did not inhale an “analytically detectable” concentration of Flexipel, the specific chemical at issue. They did not, contrary to plaintiffs’ arguments, opine that users of Stand ‘n Seal had absolutely no exposure to Flexipel. Instead, they have said that users of Stand ‘n Seal were not exposed to “any significant” or “analytically detectable” amounts of Flexipel. In other words, there is a range between zero and the detection limit of their testing, but they believe that range is insignificant.
Instead, said the defense experts, the users of Stand ‘n Seal had a much higher probability of inhaling significant levels of Isopar-G, a solvent used in various formulations of grouting. Defendants intend to offer expert testimony from Mitchell Sauerhoff that overexposure to Isopar-G can cause respiratory injury. Judge Thrash concluded that the experts’ opinions were admissible.
“The plaintiffs’ experts disagree with Sauerhoff’s opinions, but that disagreement by itself does not make Sauerhoff’s or Rigler and Longo’s testimony inadmissible.” The court noted that “none of these [potential alternative] explanations seems especially conclusive.” But the alleged generality of the defense experts’ alternate explanations for the cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries affect the weight, not the admissibility, of the expert testimony.” MassTortDefense notes that plaintiffs often forget that the defendant does not have the burden to disprove causation. So defense evidence of alternative causes can be admissible even if such evidence would be insufficient when offered by a plaintiff who has the burden of proof on causation.