TORTINI

For your delectation and delight, desultory dicta on the law of delicts.

New York Rejects the Asbestos Substantial Factor Ruse (Juni Case)

March 2nd, 2017

I recall encountering Dr. Joseph Sokolowski in one of my first asbestos personal injury cases, 32 years ago. Dr. Sokolowki was a pulmonary specialist in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and he showed up for plaintiffs in cases in south Jersey as well as in Philadelphia. Plaintiffs’ counsel sought him out for his calm and unflappable demeanor, stentorious voice, and propensity for over-interpreting chest radiographs. (Dr. Sokolowski failed the NIOSH B-Reader examination.)

At the end of his direct examination, the plaintiff’s lawyer asked Dr. Sokolowski the derigueur “substantial factor” question, which in 1985 had already become a customary feature of such testimonies. And Dr. Sokolowski delivered his well-rehearsed answer: “Each and every exposure to asbestos was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s disease.”

My cross-examination picked at the cliché. Some asbestos inhaled was then exhaled. Yes. Some asbestos inhaled was brought up and swallowed. Yes. Asbestos that was inhaled and retained near the hilum did not participate in causing disease at the periphery of the lung. Yes. And so on, and so forth. I finished with my rhetorical question, always a dangerous move, “So you have no way to say that each and every exposure to asbestos actually participated in causing the plaintiff’s disease?” Dr. Sokolowski was imperceptibly thrown off his game, but he confessed error by claiming the necessity to cover up the gap in the evidence. “Well, we have no way to distinguish among the exposures so we have to say all were involved.”

Huh? What did he say? Move to strike the witness’s testimony as irrational, and incoherent. How can a litigant affirmatively support a claim by asserting his ignorance of the necessary foundational facts? The trial judge overruled my motion with alacrity, and the parties continued with the passion play called asbestos litigation. The judge was perhaps simply eager to get on with his docket of thousands of asbestos cases, but at least Dr. Sokolowski and I recognized that the “substantial factor” testimony was empty rhetoric, with no scientific or medical basis.

Sadly, the “substantial factor” falsehood was already well ensconced in 1985, in Pennsylvania law, as well as the law of most other states. Now, 32 years later, with ever increasingly more peripheral defendants, each involving less significant, if any, asbestos exposure, the “substantial factor” ruse is beginning to unravel.1

Juni v. A.O. Smith Water Products Co.

Arthur Juni was a truck and car car mechanic, who worked on the clutches, brakes, and manifold gaskets of Ford trucks. Juni claimed to have sustained asbestos exposure in this work, as well as in other aspects of his work career. In 2012, Juni was diagnosed with mesothelioma; he died in 2014. Juni v. A.O. Smith Water Products Co., at *1,No. 190315/12 2458 2457, 2017 N.Y. Slip Op. 01523 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t, Feb. 28, 2017).

Juni sued multiple defendants in New York Supreme Court, for New York County. Most of the defendants settled, but Ford Corporation tried the case against the plaintiff’s widow. Both sides called multiple expert witnesses, whose testimony disputed whether the chrysotile asbestos in Ford’s brakes and clutches could cause mesothelioma. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, but the trial court granted judgment nothwithstanding the verdict, on the ground that the evidence failed to support the causation verdict. Id. At *1; see Juni v. A. 0. Smith Water Prod., 48 Misc. 3d 460, 11 N.Y.S.3d 415 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2015).

Earlier this week, the first department of the New York Appellate Division affirmed the judgment for Ford. 2017 N.Y. Slip Op. 01523. The Appellate Division refused to approve plaintiffs’ theory of cumulative exposure to show causation. The plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Drs. Jacqueline Moline and Stephen Markowitz, both asserted that even a single asbestos exposure was a “substantial contributing” cause. The New York appellate court, like the trial court before, saw through the ruse, and declared that both expert witnesses had failed to support their assertions.

The “Asbestos Exception” Rejected

Although New York has never enacted a codified set of evidence rules, and has never expressly adopted the rule of Daubert v. Merrill Richardson, the New York Court of Appeals has held that there are limits to the admissibility of expert witness opinion testimony. Parker v. Mobil Oil Corp., 7 N.Y.3d 434 (2006), and Cornell v. 360 W. 51st St. Realty, LLC, 22 NY3d 762 (2014); Sean Reeps. v BMW of North Am., LLC, 26 N.Y.3d 801 (2016). In Juni, the Appellate Division, First Department, firmly rejected any suggestion that plaintiffs’ expert witnesses in asbestos cases are privileged against challenge over admissibility or sufficiency because the challenges occur in an asbestos case. The plaintiff’s special pleading that asbestos causation of mesothelioma is too difficult was invalidated by the success of other plaintiffs, in other cases, in showing that a specific occupational exposure was sufficient to cause mesothelioma.

The Appellate Division also rejected the plaintiff’s claim, echoed in the dissenting opinion of one lone judge, that there exists a “consensus from the medical and scientific communities that even low doses of asbestos exposure, above that in the ambient environment, are sufficient to cause mesothelioma.” The Court held that this supposed consensus is not material to the claims of a particular plaintiff against a particular defendant, especially when the particular exposure circumstance is not associated with mesothelioma in most of the relevant studies. In Juni, the defense had presented many studies that failed to show any association between occupational brake work and mesothelioma. The court might also have added that a characterization of low exposure is extremely amiguous, depending upon the implicit comparison that is being made with other exposures. It is impossible to fit a particular plaintiff’s exposure into the scale of low, medium, and high without some further context.

Single Exposure Sufficiency Rejected

The evidence that chrysotile itself causes mesothelioma remains weak, but the outcome of Juni turned not on the broad general causation question, but on the question whether even suggestive evidence of chrysotile causation had been established for the exposure circumstances of an automobile mechanic, such as Mr. Juni. Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses maintained that Juni’s cumulative asbestos exposures caused his mesothelioma, but they had no meaningful quantification or even reasonable estimate of his exposure.

Citing the Court of Appeals decision in Reeps, the Appellate Division held that plaintiff’s expert witnesses’ causation opinions must be supported by reasonable quantification of the plaintiff’s exposure, or some some scientific method, such as mathematical modeling based upon actual work history, or by comparison of plaintiff’s claimed exposure with the exposure of workers in reported studies that establish a relevant risk from those workers’ exposure. In the Juni case, however, there were no exposure measurements or scientific models, and the comparison with workers doing similar tasks failed to show a causal relationship between the asbestos exposure in those tasks and mesothelioma.

Expert Witness Admissibility and Sufficiency Requires Evaluation of Both Direct and Cross-examination Testimony and Relied Upon Studies

The Juni decision teaches another important lesson for challenging expert witness testimony in New York: glib generalizations delivered on direct examination must be considered in the light of admissions and concessions made on cross-examination, and the entire record. In Juni, the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Jacqueline Moline and Stephen Markowitz, asserted that asbestos in Ford’s friction products was a cause of plaintiff’s mesothelioma. Cross-examination, however, revealed that these assertions were lacking in factual support.

Cumulative Exposure

On cross-examination, the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses’ statements about exposure levels proved meaningless. Moline attempted to equate visible dust with sufficient asbestos exposure to cause disease, but she conceded on cross-examination that studies had shown that 99% of brake lining debris was not asbestos. Most of the dust observed from brake drums is composed of resins used to manufacture brake linings and pads. The heat and pressure of the brake drum causes much of the remaining chrysotile to transform into a non-fibrous mineral, fosterite.

Similarly, Markowitz had to acknowledge that chrysotile has a “serpentine” structure, with individual fibers curling in a way that makes deeper penetration into the lungs more difficult. Furthermore, chrysotile, a hydrated magnesium silicate, melts in the lungs, not in the hands. The human lung can clear particulates, and so there is no certainty that remaining chrysotile fibers from brake lining exposures ever reach the periphery of the lung, where they could interact with the pleura, the tissue in which mesothelioma arises.

Increased Risk, “Linking,” and Association Are Not Causation – Exculpatory Epidemiologic Studies

When pressed, plaintiffs’ expert witnesses lapsed into characterizing the epidemiologic studies of brake and automobile mechanics as showing increased risk or association, not causation. Causation, not association, however, was the issue. Witnesses’ invocation of weasel words, such as “increased risk,” “linkage,” and “association” are insufficient in themselves to show the requisite causation in long-latency toxic exposure cases. For automobile mechanics, even the claimed association was weak at best, with plaintiffs’ expert witnesses having to acknowledge that 21 of 22 epidemiologic studies failed to show an association between automobile mechanics’ asbestos exposure and risk of mesothelioma.

The Juni case was readily distinguishable from other cases in which the Markowitz was able to identify epidemiologic studies that showed that visible dust from a specific product contained sufficient respirable asbestos to cause mesothelioma. Id. (citing Caruolo v John Crane, Inc., 226 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 2000). As the Appellate Division put the matter, there was no “no valid line of reasoning or permissible inference which could have led the jury to reach its result.” Asbestos plaintiffs must satisfy the standards set out in the New York Court of Appeals decisions, Parker v. Mobil Oil Corp., 7 NY3d 434 2006), and Cornell v. 360 W. 51st St. Realty, LLC, 22 N.Y.3d 762 (2014), for exposure evidence and causal inferences, as well.

New York now joins other discerning courts in rejecting regulatory rationales of “no safe exposure,” and default “linear no threshold” exposure-response models as substitutes for inferring specific causation.2 A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but in jurisprudence, consistency is often the bedrock for the rule of law.


1 The ruse of passing off “no known safe exposure” as evidence that even the lowest exposure was unsafe has been going on for a long time, but not all judges are snookered by this rhetorical sleight of hand. See, e.g., Bostic v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 439 S.W.3d 332, 358 (Tex. 2014) (“the failure of science to isolate a safe level of exposure does not prove specific causation”).

2 See, e.g. Bostic v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 439 S.W.3d 332, 358 (Tex. 2014) (failing to identify safe levels of exposure does not suffice to show specific causation); Henricksen v. ConocoPhillips Co., 605 F. Supp. 2d 1142, 1165-66 (E.D. Wash. 2009) (rejecting a “no threshold” model of exposure-response as unfalsifiable and unvalidated, and immaterial to the causation claims); Pluck v. BP Oil Pipeline Co., 640 F.3d 671, 679 (6th Cir. 2011) (rejecting claim that plaintiff’s exposure to benzene “above background level,” but below EPA’s maximum permissible contaminant level, caused her cancer); Newkirk v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 727 F. Supp. 2d 10006, 1015 (E.D. Wash. 2010) (rejecting Dr. David Egilman’s proffered testimony on specific causation based upon his assertion that there was no known safe level of diacetyl exposure).

Jersey Devil and the Occult (Asbestos)

November 7th, 2016

Amosite Mine in Collingswood, New Jersey

Amosite is a commercial term for the fibrous mineral grunerite (Fe7Si8O22(OH)2). Grunerite and its fibrous form, amosite, does not occur naturally in the sedimentary terrain of southern New Jersey.

And yet, my son and I encountered a treasure trove of amosite in the attic of a house on East Franklin Avenue, in Collingswood, New Jersey, not far from the Cooper River. We were within 24 hours of buying a house to renovate, when an astute building inspector called our attention to unusual attic insulation.1 Most houses built right after World War I have no insulation, or perhaps cork insulation between the attic joists. This house had loose, greyish-brown tufted fibrous material several inches thick spread across the entire attic floor. A local analytical laboratory confirmed that the loose mineral fiber was largely amosite.2

Asbestos in Attic1

The where, when, how, and why there were many cubic yards of amosite in the attic of a house in Collingswood is a mystery, but one clue is that there are several shipyards nearby, including what once was the New York Shipbuilding & Dry Dock, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and Cramps Shipyard. My unverified hunch is that after World War II, these shipyards gave away, or sold, loose amosite asbestos, which was no longer needed, and the use of which was discouraged by Naval regulations in favor of molded, pre-formed asbestos-containing insulation. The presence of such loose, fibrous amphibole asbestos in residential construction raises serious issues for exposure assessment in epidemiologic studies and in litigation cases, both of which proceed on the glib assumption that workplace exposures are the only meaningful asbestos exposures to be measured. Occult exposure to amosite or even worse, crocidolite, may well explain any number of isolated “black swan” cases of mesothelioma among workers with limited exposure to chrysotile. The amosite in the house’s attic was truly occult – hidden and scary – to the sellers of the house and to use as potential buyers.3 The contract for the sale of the house fell apart over the sellers’ and buyers’ inability to agree upon what the appropriate remediation would be.

One of the serious disservices performed by Dr. Irving Selikoff was his conflation of the various asbestos mineral types as equally dangerous.4 His motivation was quite transparent. He and his staff were working closely with plaintiffs’ counsel, and other plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, in asbestos personal injury and property damages lawsuits. Although the amphibole asbestos minerals were known to be much more dangerous than chrysotile (white asbestos), the mining and distributing companies were mostly South African, and judgment proof in United States courts. The lawsuit industry required propagating the myth of equal risk in order to keep the chrysotile mining and milling companies from avoiding liability by drawing scientific comparisons between and among the different fiber types.


1 Inspections Plus, LLC, Clementon, New Jersey 08021.

EMSL Analytical, Inc., 200 Route 130 North, Cinnaminson, NJ 08077.

See alsoAsbestos isn’t just in old fibro sheeting it can be in everything from fences to carpets,” The Courier Mail (No. 28, 2015) (“Bulk loose fill insulation is now rarely found but may be encountered unexpectedly, e.g. DIY lost insulation and fire-stop packing around cables between floors.”).

SeeHide the Substantial Factors in Asbestos Litigation”; “Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Amphiboles.”

High, Low and Right-Sided Colonics – Ridding the Courts of Junk Science

July 16th, 2016

Not surprisingly, many of Selikoff’s litigation- and regulatory-driven opinions have not fared well, such as the notions that asbestos causes gastrointestinal cancers and that all asbestos minerals have equal potential and strength to cause mesothelioma.  Forty years after Selikoff testified in litigation that occupational asbestos exposure caused an insulator’s colorectal cancer, the Institute of Medicine reviewed the extant evidence and announced that the evidence was  “suggestive but not sufficient to infer a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and pharyngeal, stomach, and colorectal cancers.” Jonathan Samet, et al., eds., Institute of Medicine Review of Asbestos: Selected Cancers (2006).[1] The Institute of Medicine’s monograph has fostered a more circumspect approach in some of the federal agencies.  The National Cancer Institute’s website now proclaims that the evidence is insufficient to permit a conclusion that asbestos causes non-pulmonary cancers of gastrointestinal tract and throat.[2]

As discussed elsewhere, Selikoff testified as early as 1966 that asbestos causes colorectal cancer, in advance of any meaningful evidence to support such an opinion, and then he, and his protégées, worked hard to lace the scientific literature with their pronouncements on the subject, without disclosing their financial, political, and positional conflicts of interest.[3]

With plaintiffs’ firm’s (Lanier) zealous pursuit of bias information from the University of Idaho, in the LoGuidice case, what are we to make of Selikoff’s and his minions’ dubious ethics of failed disclosure. Do Selikoff and Mount Sinai receive a pass because their asbestos research predated the discovery of ethics? The “Lobby” (as the late Douglas Liddell called Selikoff and his associates)[4] has seriously distorted truth-finding in any number of litigations, but nowhere are the Lobby’s distortions more at work than in lawsuits for claimed asbestos injuries. Here the conflicts of interests truly have had a deleterious effect on the quality of civil justice. As we saw with the Selikoff exceptionalism displayed by the New York Supreme Court in reviewing third-party subpoenas,[5] some courts seem bent on ignoring evidence-based analyses in favor of Mount Sinai faith-based initiatives.

Current Asbestos Litigation Claims Involving Colorectal Cancer

Although Selikoff has passed from the litigation scene, his trainees and followers have lined up at the courthouse door to propagate his opinions. Even before the IOM’s 2006 monograph, more sophisticated epidemiologists consistently rejected the Selikoff conclusion on asbestos and colon cancer, which grew out of Selikoff’s litigation activities.[6] And yet, the minions keep coming.

In the pre-Daubert era, defendants lacked an evidentiary challenge to the Selikoff’s opinion that asbestos caused colorectal cancer. Instead of contesting the legal validity or sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ general causation claims, defendants often focused on the unreliability of the causal attribution for the specific claimant’s disease. These early cases are often misunderstood to be challenges to expert witnesses’ opinions about whether asbestos causes colorectal cancer; they were not.[7]

Of course, after the IOM’s 2006 monograph, active expert witness gatekeeping should eliminate asbestos gastrointestinal cancer claims, but sadly they persist. Perhaps, courts simply considered the issue “grandfathered” in from the era in which judicial scrutiny of expert witness opinion testimony was restricted. Perhaps, defense counsel are failing to frame and support their challenges properly.  Perhaps both.

Arthur Frank Jumps the Gate

Although ostensibly a “Frye” state, Pennsylvania judges have, when moved by the occasion, to apply a fairly thorough analysis of proffered expert witness opinion.[8] On occasion, Pennsylvania judges have excluded unreliably or invalidly supported causation opinions, under the Pennsylvania version of the Frye standard. A recent case, however, tried before a Workman’s Compensation Judge (WCJ), and appealed to the Commonwealth Court, shows how inconsistent the application of the standard can be, especially when Selikoff’s legacy views are at issue.

Michael Piatetsky, an architect, died of colorectal cancer. Before his death, he and his wife filed a worker’s compensation claim, in which they alleged that his disease was caused by his workplace exposure to asbestos. Garrison Architects v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Piatetsky), No. 1095 C.D. 2015, Pa. Cmwlth. Ct., 2016 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 72 (Jan. 22, 2016) [cited as Piatetsky]. Mr. Piatetsky was an architect, almost certainly knowledgeable about asbestos hazards generally.  Despite his knowledge, Piatetsky eschewed personal protective equipment even when working at dusty work sites well marked with warnings. Although he had engaged in culpable conduct, the employer in worker compensation proceedings does not have ordinary negligence defenses, such as contributory negligence or assumption of risk.

In litigating the Piatetsky’s claim, the employer dragged its feet and failed to name an expert witness.  Eventually, after many requests for continuances, the Workers’ Compensation Judge barred the employer from presenting an expert witness. With the record closed, and without an expert witness, the Judge understandably ruled in favor of the claimant.

The employer, sans expert witness, had to confront claimant’s expert witness, Arthur L. Frank, a minion of Selikoff and a frequent testifier in asbestos and many other litigations. Frank, of course, opined that asbestos causes colon cancer and that it caused Mr. Piatetsky’s cancer. Mr. Piatetsky’s colon cancer originated on the right side of his colon. Dr. Frank thus emphasized that asbestos causes colon cancer in all locations, but especially on the right side in view of one study’s having concluded “that colon cancer caused by asbestos is more likely to begin on the right side.” Piatetsky at *6.

On appeal, the employer sought relief on several issues, but the only one of interest here is the employer’s argument “that Claimant’s medical expert based his opinion on flimsy medical studies.” Piatetsky at *10. The employer’s appeal seemed to go off the rails with the insistence that the Claimant’s medical opinion was invalid because Dr. Frank relied upon studies not involving architects. Piatetsky at *14. The Commonwealth Court was able to point to testimony, although probably exaggerated, which suggested that Mr. Piatetsky had been heavily exposed, at least at times, and thus his exposure was similar to that in the studies cited by Frank.

With respect to Frank’s right-sided (non-sinister) opinion, the Commonwealth Court framed the employer’s issue as a contention that Dr. Frank’s opinion on the asbestos-relatedness of right-sided colon cancer was “not universally accepted.” But universal acceptance has never been the test or standard for the rejection or acceptance of expert witness opinion testimony in any state.  Either the employer badly framed its appeal, or the appellate court badly misstated the employer’s ground for relief. In any event, the Commonwealth Court never addressed the relevant legal standard in its discussion.

The Claimant argued that the hearing Judge had found that Frank’s opinion was based on “numerous studies.” Piatetsky at *15. None of these studies is cited to permit the public to assess the argument and the Court’s acceptance of it. The appellate court made inappropriately short work of this appellate issue by confusing general and specific causation, and invoking Mr. Piatetsky’s age, his lack of family history of colon cancer, Frank’s review of medical records, testimony, and work records, as warranting Frank’s causal inference. None of these factors is relevant to general causation, and none is probative of the specific causation claim.  Many if not most colon cancers have no identifiable risk factor, and Dr. Frank had no way to rule out baseline risk, even if there were an increased risk from asbestos exposure. Piatetsky at *16. With no defense expert witness, the employer certainly had a difficult appellate journey. It is hard for the reader of the Commonwealth Court’s opinion to determine whether the case was poorly defended, poorly briefed on appeal, or poorly described by the appellate judges.

In any event, the right-sided ruse of Arthur Frank went unreprimanded.  Intellectual due process might have led the appellate court to cite the article at issue, but it failed to do so.  It is interesting and curious to see how the appellate court gave a detailed recitation of the controverted facts of asbestos exposure, while how glib the court was when describing the scientific issues and evidence.  Nonetheless, the article referenced vaguely, which went uncited by the appellate court, was no doubt the paper:  K. Jakobsson, M. Albin & L. Hagmar, “Asbestos, cement, and cancer in the right part of the colon,” 51 Occup. & Envt’l Med. 95 (1994).

These authors 24 observed versus 9.63 expected right-sided colon cancers, and they concluded that there was an increased rate of right-sided colon cancer in the asbestos cement plant workers.  Notably the authors’ reference population had a curiously low rate of right-sided colon cancer.  For left-sided colon cancer, the authors 9.3 expected cases but observed only 5 cases in the asbestos-cement cohort.  Contrary to Frank’s suggestion, the authors did not conclude that right-sided colon cancers had been caused by asbestos; indeed, the authors never reached any conclusion whether asbestos causes colorectal  cancer under any circumstances.  In their discussion, these authors noted that “[d]espite numerous epidemiological and experimental studies, there is no consensus concerning exposure to asbestos and risks of gastrointestinal cancer.” Jakobsson at 99; see also Dorsett D. Smith, “Does Asbestos Cause Additional Malignancies Other than Lung Cancer,” chap. 11, in Dorsett D. Smith, The Health Effects of Asbestos: An Evidence-based Approach 143, 154 (2015). Even this casual description of the Jakobsson study will awake the learned reader to the multiple comparisons that went on in this cohort study, with outcomes reported for left, right, rectum, and multiple sites, without any adjustment to the level of significance.  Risk of right-sided colon cancer was not a pre-specified outcome of the study, and the results of subsequent studies have never corroborated this small cohort study.

A sane understanding of subgroup analyses is important to judicial gatekeeping. SeeSub-group Analyses in Epidemiologic Studies — Dangers of Statistical Significance as a Bright-Line Test” (May 17, 2011).  The chapter on statistics in the Reference Manual for Scientific Evidence (3d ed. 2011) has some prudent caveats for multiple comparisons and testing, but neither the chapter on epidemiology, nor the chapter on clinical medicine[9], provides any sense of the dangers of over-interpreting subgroup analyses.

Some commentators have argued that we must not dissuade scientists from doing subgroup analysis, but the issue is not whether they should be done, but how they should be interpreted.[10] Certainly many authors have called for caution in how subgroup analyses are interpreted[11], but apparently Expert Witness Arthur Frank, did not receive the memo, before testifying in the Piatetsky case, and the Commonwealth Court did not before deciding this case.


[1] As good as the IOM process can be on occasion, even its reviews are sometimes less than thorough. The asbestos monograph gave no consideration to alcohol in the causation of laryngeal cancer, and no consideration to smoking in its analysis of asbestos and colorectal cancer. See, e.g., Peter S. Liang, Ting-Yi Chen & Edward Giovannucci, “Cigarette smoking and colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: Systematic review and meta-analysis,” 124 Internat’l J. Cancer 2406, 2410 (2009) (“Our results indicate that both past and current smokers have an increased risk of [colorectal cancer] incidence and mortality. Significantly increased risk was found for current smokers in terms of mortality (RR 5 1.40), former smokers in terms of incidence (RR 5 1.25)”); Lindsay M. Hannan, Eric J. Jacobs and Michael J. Thun, “The Association between Cigarette Smoking and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in a Large Prospective Cohort from the United States,” 18 Cancer Epidemiol., Biomarkers & Prevention 3362 (2009).

[2] National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk” (last visited July 10, 2016) (“In addition to lung cancer and mesothelioma, some studies have suggested an association between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, as well as an elevated risk for cancers of the throat, kidney, esophagus, and gallbladder (3, 4). However, the evidence is inconclusive.”).

[3] Compare “Health Hazard Progress Notes: Compensation Advance Made in New York State,” 16(5) Asbestos Worker 13 (May 1966) (thanking Selikoff for testifying in a colon cancer case) with, Irving J. Selikoff, “Epidemiology of gastrointestinal cancer,” 9 Envt’l Health Persp. 299 (1974) (arguing for his causal conclusion between asbestos and all gastrointestinal cancers, with no acknowledgment of his role in litigation or his funding from the asbestos insulators’ union).

[4] F.D.K. Liddell, “Magic, Menace, Myth and Malice,” 41 Ann. Occup. Hyg. 3, 3 (1997); see alsoThe Lobby Lives – Lobbyists Attack IARC for Conducting Scientific Research” (Feb. 19, 2013).

[5]

SeeThe LoGiudice Inquisitiorial Subpoena & Its Antecedents in N.Y. Law” (July 14, 2016).

[6] See, e.g., Richard Doll & Julian Peto, Asbestos: Effects on health of exposure to asbestos 8 (1985) (“In particular, there are no grounds for believing that gastrointestinal cancers in general are peculiarly likely to be caused by asbestos exposure.”).

[7] See Landrigan v. The Celotex Corporation, Revisited” (June 4, 2013); Landrigan v. The Celotex Corp., 127 N.J. 404, 605 A.2d 1079 (1992); Caterinicchio v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp., 127 NJ. 428, 605 A.2d 1092 (1992). In both Landrigan and Caterinicchio, there had been no challenge to the reliability or validity of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses’ general causation opinions. Instead, the trial courts entered judgments, assuming arguendo that asbestos can cause colorectal cancer (a dubious proposition), on the ground that the low relative risk cited by plaintiffs’ expert witnesses (about 1.5) was factually insufficient to support a verdict for plaintiffs on specific causation.  Indeed, the relative risk suggested that the odds were about 2 to 1 in defendants’ favor that the plaintiffs’ colorectal cancers were not caused by asbestos.

[8] See, e.g., Porter v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., Sept. Term 2007, No. 03275. 2016 WL 614572 (Phila. Cty. Com. Pleas, Oct. 5, 2015); “Demonstration of Frye Gatekeeping in Pennsylvania Birth Defects Case” (Oct. 6, 2015).

[9] John B. Wong, Lawrence O. Gostin & Oscar A. Cabrera, “Reference Guide on Medical Testimony,” in Reference Manual for Scientific Evidence 687 (3d ed. 2011).

[10] See, e.g., Phillip I. Good & James W. Hardin, Common Errors in Statistics (and How to Avoid Them) 13 (2003) (proclaiming a scientists’ Bill of Rights under which they should be allowed to conduct subgroup analyses); Ralph I. Horwitz, Burton H. Singer, Robert W. Makuch, Catherine M. Viscoli, “Clinical versus statistical considerations in the design and analysis of clinical research,” 51 J. Clin. Epidemiol. 305 (1998) (arguing for the value of subgroup analyses). In United States v. Harkonen, the federal government prosecuted a scientist for fraud in sending a telecopy that described a clinical trial as “demonstrating” a benefit in a subgroup of a secondary trial outcome.  Remarkably, in the Harkonen case, the author, and criminal defendant, was describing a result in a pre-specified outcome, in a plausible but post-hoc subgroup, which result accorded with prior clinical trials and experimental evidence. United States v. Harkonen (D. Calif. 2009); United States v. Harkonen (D. Calif. 2010) (post-trial motions), aff’d, 510 F. App’x 633 (9th Cir. 2013) (unpublished), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 824, ___ U.S. ___ (2014); Brief by Scientists And Academics as Amici Curiae In Support Of Petitioner, On Petition For Writ Of Certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States, W. Scott Harkonen v. United States, No. 13-180 (filed Sept. 4, 2013).

[11] SeeSub-group Analyses in Epidemiologic Studies — Dangers of Statistical Significance as a Bright-Line Test” (May 17, 2011) (collecting commentary); see also Lemuel A. Moyé, Statistical Reasoning in Medicine:  The Intuitive P-Value Primer 206, 225 (2d ed. 2006) (noting that subgroup analyses are often misleading: “Fishing expeditions for significance commonly catch only the junk of sampling error”); Victor M. Montori, Roman Jaeschke, Holger J. Schünemann, Mohit Bhandari, Jan L Brozek, P. J. Devereaux & Gordon H Guyatt, “Users’ guide to detecting misleading claims in clinical research reports,” 329 Brit. Med. J. 1093 (2004) (“Beware subgroup analysis”); Susan F. Assmann, Stuart J. Pocock, Laura E. Enos, Linda E. Kasten, “Subgroup analysis and other (mis)uses) of baseline data in clinical trials,” 355 Lancet 1064 (2000); George Davey Smith & Mathias Egger, “Commentary: Incommunicable knowledge? Interpreting and applying the results of clinical trials and meta-analyses,” 51 J. Clin. Epidemiol. 289 (1998) (arguing against post-hoc hypothesis testing); Douglas G. Altman, “Statistical reviewing for medical journals,” 17 Stat. Med. 2662 (1998); Douglas G. Altman, “Commentary:  Within trial variation – A false trail?” 51 J. Clin. Epidemiol. 301 (1998) (noting that observed associations are expected to vary across subgroup because of random variability); Christopher Bulpitt, “Subgroup Analysis,” 2 Lancet: 31 (1988).

The LoGiudice Inquisitiorial Subpoena & Its Antecedents in N.Y. Law

July 14th, 2016

The plaintiffs’ bar’s inquisition into funding has been a recurring theme in the asbestos and other litigations.[1] It is thus interesting to compare the friendly reception Justice Moulton gave plaintiffs’ subpoena in LoGiudice[2] with the New York courts’ relatively recent hostility toward a defendant’s subpoena to Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

A few years ago, Justice Sherry Heitler quashed a defendant’s attempt to subpoena information from the archives of a deceased, former faculty member of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (“Mt. Sinai”), in Reyniak v. Barnstead Internat’l, No. 102688-08, 2010 NY Slip Op 50689, 2010 WL 1568424 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 6, 2010). In a cursory opinion, Justice Heitler cited institutional expense, chilling of research, and scholars’ fears that their unpublished notes, ideas, and observations would become public as a result of litigation. Heitler relied upon and followed an earlier New York state court’s decision that adopted a rather lopsided “balancing” analysis, which permitted the New York courts to ignore the legitimate needs of defendants for access to underlying data.[3]

Remarkably, Justice Heitler failed to cite a federal appellate court’s subsequent decision, which upheld the tobacco companies’ subpoena to Mount Sinai.[4] Her opinion also ignored the important context of the asbestos litigation, in which Selikoff, long since deceased, played a crucial role in fomenting and perpetuating litigation, with tendentious publications and pronouncements. Some might say, “manufacturing certainty.” Perpetuating the Litigation Industry’s Selikoff mythology, Justice Heitler described Selikoff as a ground breaking asbestos researcher, but she either ignored, or was ignorant of, his testimonial adventures, his attempts to influence litigation with ex parte meetings with presiding judges, and his other questionable litigation-related conduct.

Selikoff’s participation in litigation was not always above board.  His supposedly ground-breaking work was funded by the insulator’s union, which also sought him out as a testifying expert witness. Among his many testimonial adventures,[5] Selikoff testified as early as 1966 that asbestos causes colorectal cancer, and that it caused a specific claimant’s colorectal cancer. See “Health Hazard Progress Notes: Compensation Advance Made in New York State,” 16(5) Asbestos Worker 13 (May 1966) (thanking Selikoff for his having given testimony to support an insulator’s claim that asbestos caused his colorectal cancer). To be sure, Selikoff made his litigation claims in the scientific literature as well, but without any acknowledgement of his involving in litigation involving this very issue, and his funding by the asbestos union.[6]

Given the dubious provenance of many of Selikoff’s opinions,[7] the disparate treatment of the subpoenas in LoGuidice and Reyniak is irreconcilable. The inflated prestige of Selikoff and Mount Sinai blinded the New York state trial courts to Selikoff’s role in litigation and his biased assessments in science. The judicial hypocrisy may well be the consequence of how the academic community has promoted Selikoff’s reputation, while working assiduously to undermine the reputations of anyone who has been connected with the defense of occupational disease claims. Consider, for instance, how Labor (Marxist) historians have railed against the role that Dr. Anthony Lanza played in personal injury litigation following the Gauley Bridge tunnel construction.  See Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale, “Anthony J. Lanza, Silicosis and the Gauley Bridge ‘Nine’,” 27 Social History of Medicine 86 (2013). While these historians deplore Lanza, however, they laud Selikoff. SeeBritish Labor Historians Belaboring American Labor History – Gauley Bridge” (Oct. 14, 2013). Politics and occupational disease litigation are like that.


[1] See In re All Litigation filed by Maune, Raichle, Hartley, French & Mudd LLC v. 3M Co., No. 5-15-0235, Ill. App., 5th Dist.; 2016 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1392 (June 30, 2016); “Engineers for Automakers Must Unredact Agendas in Madison County Asbestos Litigation,” Madison County Record (July 2016); Lynn A. Lenhart, “Meeting Agendas Between Non-Party Consultant and Counsel for Asbestos Friction Clients Not Privileged” (July 5, 2016).  See also Weitz & Luxenberg P.C. v. Georgia-Pacific LLC, 2013 WL 2435565, 2013 NY Slip Op 04127 (June 6, 2013), aff’d, 2013 WL 2435565 (N.Y. App. Div., 1st Dep’t June 6, 2013); “A Cautionary Tale on How Not to Sponsor a Scientific Study for Litigation” (June 21, 2013).

[2] LoGiudice v. American Talc Co., No. 190253/2014, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2360, (N.Y. Sup., N.Y. Cty., June 20, 2016).

[3] See In re R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 136 Misc 2d 282, 285, 518 N.Y.S.2d 729 (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty. 1987); see also In re New York County Data Entry Worker Prod. Liab.Litig., No. 14003/92, 1994 WL 87529 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cty. Jan 31, 1994) (denying discovery because “special circumstances,” vaguely defined were absent).

[4] Mount Sinai School of Medicine v. The American Tobacco Co., 866 F.2d 552 (2d Cir. 1889).

[5]Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Testimony” (Dec. 3, 2010).

[6] See, e.g., Irving J. Selikoff, “Epidemiology of gastrointestinal cancer,” 9 Envt’l Health Persp. 299 (1974) (arguing for his causal conclusion between asbestos and all gastrointestinal cancers).

[7] See generally Scientific Prestige, Reputation, Authority & The Creation of Scientific Dogmas” (Oct. 4, 2014); “Historians Should Verify Not Vilify or Abilify – The Difficult Case of Irving Selikoff” (Jan. 4, 2014).