The Eleventh Circuit last week affirmed a jury verdict for chemical defendant E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. in a personal injury claim arising out of the use of the agricultural product Benlate. Ramirez v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., No. 11-10035 (11th Cir. 12/13/11). The plaintiff/appellant alleged in his complaint that he used Benlate in conjunction with his farming
operations. Ramirez asserted that Benlate was a defective product because it contained an allegedly known carcinogen, atrazine. He also contended that the use of Benlate caused him to contract cancer. The case was tried to a jury which returned a verdict favorable to DuPont. Specifically, although the jury found that Benlate was a defective product, it did not find that the Benlate was the cause of Ramirez’s cancer. On appeal, Ramirez argued that the verdict in the case was inconsistent because the jury determined that the product was defective, but was not the cause of Ramirez’s injuries.
The court agreed with DuPont’s argument that defect and causation are separate elements of the strict liability cause of action, and a jury is free to go different directions on each. The record showed that the jury was presented with numerous plausible reasons for determining that Benlate did not cause Ramirez’s cancer. For example, the jury heard that when Ramirez sprayed his crops, he rode inside an enclosed tractor cab, wore protective clothing, including goggles, a mask, a jumpsuit, gloves and boots, and thus had minimal exposure. The jury also heard evidence demonstrating that Ramirez had numerous risk factors for cancer, including a family history of cancer and a history of smoking cigarettes. Finally, plaintiff attacked DuPont’s expert, Dr. Cohen, contending that the testimony of Dr. Cohen should have been stricken pursuant to Daubert. The court of appeals disagreed, finding Cohen was one of the world’s leading experts in cancer and chemical causation; clearly, he considered the type of scientific and factual information that experts in his field would reasonably rely upon in opining on causation.