October 06, 2014 Articles

Expert Testimony on Causation Requires Sufficient Scientific Basis

Pennsylvania reinforces minimum standard to be met to qualify as expert opinion.

By John J. DiChello

In a precedential ruling on the admissibility of expert testimony that is particularly significant to defendants in toxic tort matters, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Snizavich v. Rohm & Haas Co., 83 A.3d 191 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013), ruled on December 6, 2013, that an expert's opinion regarding the cause of a plaintiff's injury is inadmissible under Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 702 and the Frye standard if it is not based on scientific authority, such as facts, empirical studies, or the expert's research, that the expert has applied to the facts of the case and that supports the expert's opinion. This is so even if the expert relied on many years of experience in medical or scientific fields and his or her own knowledge.

In Snizavich, the decedent was employed as a contractor at Rohm and Haas's facility in Spring House, Pennsylvania, for 13 years, during which time he worked on air conditioning, refrigeration, and environmental chambers and allegedly came into contact with various chemicals. The decedent subsequently died from brain cancer. The plaintiff, who was the decedent's wife, sued Rohm and Haas, contending that her husband's brain cancer was caused by exposure to chemicals at the Spring House facility and that Rohm and Haas was liable for her husband's death under the Wrongful Death and Survival Acts, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. ยงยง 8301(a) and 8302.

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