Oncology Expert Witness Successfully Opines That Workplace Dust Exposure Caused Smoker’s Lung Cancer


Oncology Expert

Court: Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth Appellate District, Cuyahoga County
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Howell v. CONRAIL
Citation: 2019-Ohio-2434

Facts

The plaintiff worked for the defendant Conrail from 1975 until his retirement in 2013. The plaintiff earlier worked in track maintenance and was later shifted to signal department. His work mainly involved repairing and maintaining railroad signals and signal boxes and exposed him to silica dust and diesel exhaust. It was alleged that the work environment lacked proper respiratory protection, dust control measures, or warnings about these dangerous conditions.

The plaintiff was also a smoker from the age of 17 until he quit smoking in February 2018. The plaintiff was diagnosed with lung cancer and lung disease in 2015.  The plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant stating that the work environment provided by the defendant resulted in the disease.

During the trial, the jury gave a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and held that the defendant was 60% responsible for the plaintiff’s cancer. The other 40% was attributed to the plaintiff’s own conduct. The defendant appealed and the question before the court was whether the trial court erred in permitting the plaintiff’s treating physician and a witness who had no training or experience in the subject, to offer an expert opinion that the plaintiff’s lung cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos, silica, and diesel exhaust.

The Oncology Expert

The plaintiff’s witness was qualified as an expert in hematology and oncology, as well as a treating oncologist of the plaintiff. The expert had testified that 90% of his practice involved treating cancer, especially lung cancer, and that he had extensive experience identifying the causes of cancer.

The expert testified that asbestos causes cancer and that the combination of asbestos exposure and smoking creates a synergistic effect wherein the impact of those two factors together was greater than the sum of those two parts.  The expert testified that there was a reasonable degree of medical certainty that plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos, silica dust, and diesel exhaust fumes in the course of his employment on the railroad were substantial contributing factors to the initiation and development of his lung cancer.

Court’s Discussions

There was no dispute that the expert’s testimony was related to matters beyond the knowledge or experience possessed by laypersons, pursuant to Evid.R. 702(A). The defendant also did not dispute that the expert was qualified to testify as an expert on the plaintiff’s treatment for lung cancer, pursuant to Evid.R. 702(B).

The defendant argued that the specific opinions of the expert exceeded the scope of his expertise. The defendant further argued that his causation opinion was improper because he had no training or experience in the subject. Rather, it was alleged that what the expert knew about the subject, he learned in medical school or encountered for the first time while preparing to testify. The defendant further argued that the only literature the oncology expert was familiar with on the subject consisted of synopses of studies and articles.

The court disagreed with defendants arguments and held that although the defendant was correct that the expert has no specialized training in occupational medicine, as outlined above, he had significant experience in diagnosing and treating lung cancer, and such experience clearly involved identifying the causes of cancer.

Held

The combination of the oncology expert’s medical training and professional experience in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer were sufficient to support his testimony. Thus, it was held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the plaintiff’s treating physician to testify as to causation.

What We Can Learn From This Case

The combination of an oncology expert’s medical training and professional experience in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer are sufficient to support the testimony.

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