Court Rejects Scientific Theory in Asbestos Litigation; Betz/Simikian v. Pneumo Abex, LLC, et al.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the trial court was correct in granting the defendants’ motion to prevent a plaintiff’s expert from testifying in an asbestos case. In this case, the plaintiff’s expert theorized that “each and every fiber” of inhaled asbestos was a substantial contributing factor in asbestos-related diseases.

The defendants sought to bar or prevent that testimony using the U.S. Supreme Court’s rule in the Frye case.

In Betz/Simikian, Charles Simikian brought a product liability case against Allied Signal, Inc., Ford Motor Co. and others. The plaintiff claimed that throughout his 44-year career as an auto mechanic, he was exposed to asbestos products, which in turn caused him to develop the condition known as mesothelioma.

The plaintiff’s case relied on a pathologist expert who opined that each and every exposure to asbestos, no matter how small, contributes to the development of an asbestos-related disease. This was referred to as “any exposure” theory of causation. The defendants argued under Frye that there is no scientific support for this theory.

The trial judge in the Simikian case directed the parties to designate test cases to which to address the Frye challenge. Given this information, the appellate court overturned the trial judge’s direction indicating that the judge had abused his discretion in finding for the defendants and ordering the test cases.

However, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the order of the appellate court holding that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in his assessment. The court held that the trial judge was correct in ordering a Frye hearing when he or she believes that there are grounds that an expert witness has not applied accepted scientific methodology in reaching his or her conclusions. Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the trial judge was correct in permitting the further evidentiary hearing to determine the validity of the pathologist’s opinions. This case decision makes clear that the plaintiff’s burden of proof must include scientifically supported expert testimony.

Betz/Simikian v. Pneumo Abex, LLC, et al. 2012 WL 1860853 (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania) (May 23, 2012).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Naperville, Wood Dale, Elgin, Elmwood Park, Evergreen Park, Chicago Heights, Lockport, Romeoville and Aurora, Illinois.

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