TORTINI

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

The Lobby – Cut on the Bias

July 6th, 2020

When ordinary citizens hear about lobbies, they think about highly paid former elected officials pressing the interests of manufacturing and service industries in the federal and various state capitals. Of course, there are such lobbyists, but the description misses one of the most powerful groups, the plaintiffs’ mass tort trial bar, the largest rent-seeking group in the United States. When the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ interests are aligned with a group of scientists and physicians who have for decades pressed the interests of labor unions for more and more compensation, and have delivered scientific studies calculated to support their pro-compensation goals, the lobby deserves special attention as “The Lobby.”

Francis Douglas Kelly Liddell was the anti-Selikoff, and he frequently drew the ire, wrath, and barbs of The Lobby. Unlike Selikoff, Liddell had a first-rate education in mathematics (B.A., M.A., Trinity College, Cambridge University), and he had 21 years of hands-on pneumoconiosis research as a Scientific Officer and then Director of the Statistics Department of the National Coal Board, and then Head of the Medical Service’s Medical Statistics Branch.[1]

McGill University recruited Liddell in 1969 to its Medical School’s Department of Epidemiology. In Montreal, Liddell led the statistical analyses for epidemiologic studies of the Quebec chrysotile miners and millers. He helped develop the methodology that underlies the ILO system for evaluating chest radiographs for pneumoconiosis. Although Liddell retired in 1992, as an Emeritus Professor, he remained active in lecturing and publishing, and in his professional associations, Royal Statistical Society and later in the American Statistical Association. Liddell’s careful statistical work, and the much lower risks found in the Canadian chrysotile mining cohorts put him at odds with Selikoff and The Lobby.

In 1997, Liddell had had enough of The Lobby’s insinuations, slanders, and bent science. He did what rarely happens in the scientific world; he called them out for what they were doing:

“[A]n anti-asbestos lobby, based in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York, promoted the fiction that asbestos was an all-pervading menace, and trumped up a number of asbestos myths for widespread dissemination, through media eager for bad news.”[2]

Since Liddell wrote in 1997, The Lobby has grown and insinuated itself into the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and into a variety of domestic advisory boards to regulatory agencies. The Lobby has learned to use the language and hand waving of the “moral panic,” whenever an expert who has had any connections to regulated industries. Members of The Lobby, however, seem to think that they have no conflicts of interest, despite their deep positional and financial connections to the unregulated lawsuit industry. Asserting conflicts of interest thus becomes an asymmetric weapon to advance pro-compensation and environmental “friendly” conclusions.

Early last month, a group of admittedly pro-manufacturing industry organizations[3] submitted their counter to The Lobby’s purity tests that keep defense expert witnesses and consultants from serving on advisory boards. The organizations wrote to the EPA Administrator, to object to the asymmetry of interest alignments among the Ad Hoc Peer Reviewers for the March 2020 Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos, from the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC).

While the assertion of conflicts of interest for actual research tends to be overwrought, at least when the methods and data are transparent, the conflicts identified in the letter to the EPA have the real potential to skew an opinion-laden, policy document. The reality is that any such EPA risk assessment will be used as a cudgel in tort and environmental litigation, restrictive regulations, and legislative campaigns to “ban” asbestos. The organizations’ complaints are well justified.

The three committee members at issue are Henry Anderson, Steven Markowitz, and Marty Kanarek. All three are card-carrying members of The Lobby.  Markowitz and Anderson are tied to a lobby group, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), which advocates a universal ban on asbestos, notwithstanding that this may require relocating 7+ billion people to another planet. Markowitz, Anderson, and Kanarek all testify for the asbestos lawsuit industry. Anderson has been testifying in asbestos personal injury cases, for over 35 years, after he served a brief training in the Mt. Sinai catechism, on New York’s Upper East Side. Indeed, in the mid-1980s, New Jersey plaintiffs’ lawyers regularly called Anderson as an expert witness to give the party line. Markowitz has also trained in the Mt. Sinai catechism, but now is at Queens College, in Queens, New York. Markowitz has not testified for as long as Anderson, but then he has not lived as long. In any event, Markowitz has almost certainly made up in volume for what he has lost in time.

The organizations complaining about Anderson, Markowitz, and Kanarek as peer reviewers correctly point out that these physicians are advocates and highly compensated expert witnesses for the asbestos lawsuit industry. The letter to the EPA also points out that they have been purveyors of dubious opinions on “each and every exposure,” which have been found to be unreliable and not well supported.[4] Certainly less biased experts could be found, and if not, then the Peer Review committee could be balanced with experts who have more balanced views. Inquiring minds wonder how the peer review committee ever became so unbalanced, but I suspect that asymmetrical evaluation of conflicts of interest had a lot to do with it.[5]


[1]  James Hanley, Corbett McDonald, and Margaret R. Becklake, “In Memoriam 2003: Francis Douglas Kelly Liddell.”

[2]  F.D.K. Liddell, “Magic, Menace, Myth and Malice,” 41 Ann. Occup. Hyg. 3, 3 (1997).

[3]  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, American Property Casualty Insurance Association, American Tort Reform Association, Aerospace Industries Association, Coalition for Litigation Justice, International Association of Defense Counsel, National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc., and Washington Legal Foundation.

[4]  See, e.g., In re W.R. Grace & Co., 355 B.R. 462, 482 (Bankr. D. Del. 2006) (“Dr. Anderson’s analysis is unreliable. Dr. Anderson’s opinion, therefore, does not satisfy Daubert and its progeny and is not admissible. We exclude this evidence.”), appeal den., 2007 WL 1074094 (D. Del. Mar. 26, 2007); In re Matter of New York City Asbestos Litig., 48 Misc. 3d 460, 483-484 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cty. 2015) (“For all of these reasons, Markowitz’s opinions, either individually or collectively, do not establish that asbestos contained in friction products can cause mesothelioma, and as he conceded, he could identify no study to support his proposition that there is an increased risk of contracting mesothelioma from exposure to auto brakes, clutches, or gaskets or that there is an increased risk of mesothelioma from the use of friction products or work on friction materials in the automobile industry…. Markowitz not only cited no study to support his opinion, but he also conceded that numerous studies contradict it.”), aff’d sub nom., Juni v. A.O. Smith Water Prods. Co., 32 N.Y.3d 1116, 116 N.E.3d 75 91 N.Y.S.3d 784 (2018).

[5]  “Disappearing Conflicts of Interest” (Oct. 29, 2017) (discussing Steven Markowitz); “The Mt. Sinai Catechism” (June 7, 2013) (discussing Markowitz’ s publications that followed up on Selikoff’s insulator cohort).

Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson – Passing Talc Off As Asbestos

June 26th, 2020

In talc exposure litigation of ovarian cancer claims, plaintiffs were struggling to show that cosmetic talc use caused ovarian cancer, despite missteps by the defense.[1] And then lawsuit industrialist Mark Lanier entered the fray and offered a meretriciously beguiling move: Stop trying talc cases and start trying asbestos cases.

The Ingham appellate decision this week from the Missouri Court of Appeals appears to be a superficial affirmation of the Lanier strategy.[2] The court gave defendants some relief on jurisdictional issues, but largely affirmed the admissibility of Lanier’s expert witnesses on medical causation, both general and specific.[3]

After all, asbestos is an established cause of ovarian cancer. Or is it?

In 2006, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) addressed extra-pulmonary cancers caused by asbestos, without ever mentioning ovarian carcinoma.[4] Many textbooks and reviews found themselves unable to conclude that asbestos of any type caused ovarian cancer throughout the 20th century and a decade into the 21st century. The world of opinions changed, however, in 2011, when a working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) met in Lyon, France, and issued its support for the general causation claim in a suspect document published in 2012.[5] The IARC has strict rules that prohibit anyone who has any connection with manufacturing industry from serving on its working groups, but the Agency allows consultants and contractors for the lawsuit industry to serve without limitation. The 2011 working group on fibers and dusts thus sported lawsuit industry acolytes such as Peter F. Infante, Jonathan Samet, and Philip J. Landrigan.

Given the composition of this working group, no one was surprised by its finding:

“The Working Group noted that a causal association between exposure to asbestos and cancer of the ovary was clearly established, based on five strongly positive cohort mortality studies of women with heavy occupational exposure to asbestos (Acheson et al., 1982; Wignall & Fox, 1982; Germani et al., 1999; Berry et al., 2000; Magnani et al., 2008). The conclusion received additional support from studies showing that women and girls with environmental, but not occupational exposure to asbestos (Ferrante et al., 2007; Reid et al., 2008, 2009) had positive, though non-significant, increases in both ovarian cancer incidence and mortality.”[6]

The herd mentality is fairly strong in the world of occupational medicine, but not everyone concurred. A group of Australian asbestos researchers (Reid, et al.) without lawsuit industry credentials published another meta-analysis in 2011, as well.[7] Although the Australian researchers reported an increased summary estimate of risk, they were careful to point out that this elevation may have resulted from disease misclassification:

“In the studies that did not examine ovarian cancer pathology, or confirmed cases of mesothelioma from a cancer or mesothelioma registry, misclassification of the cause of death in some cases is likely to have occurred, given that misclassification was reported in those studies that did reexamine cancer pathology specimens. Misclassification may result in an underestimate of peritoneal mesothelioma and an overestimate of ovarian cancer or the converse. Among women, peritoneal mesothelioma may be more likely to be classified as ovarian, colon, or stomach cancer, rather than a rare occupational cancer.”[8]

The authors noted that Irving Selikoff had first reported that a significant number of peritoneal cancers, likely mesothelial in origin, have been misclassified as ovarian cancers. Studies that relied upon death certificates only might thus be very misleading. Supporting the danger of misclassification, the Reid study reported that:

“Only the meta-analysis of those studies that reported ovarian cancer incidence (i.e., those studies that did not rely on cause of death certification to classify their cases of ovarian cancer) did not observe a significant excess risk.”[9]

Reid also reported the absence of other indicia of causation:

“No study showed a statistically significant trend  of ovarian cancer with degree of asbestos exposure. In addition, there was no evidence of a significant trend across studies as grouped exposure increased.”[10]

Other scientists and physicians have acknowledged the controversial nature of the IARC’s determination. In 2011, pathologist Samuel Hammar, who has testified regularly for the lawsuit industry, voiced concerns about the diagnostic accuracy of ovarian cancer cases in asbestos studies:

“It has been difficult to draw conclusions on the basis of epidemiologic studies of ovarian cancers because, histologically, their distinction between peritoneal mesothelioma and carcinomatous peritonei (including primary peritoneal serous papillary adenocarcinoma) is difficult. Ovarian tumors tend to grow by extension and uncommonly metastasize through the bloodstream, which is similar to tumors of mesothelial origin … .”[11]

In 2014, a working group of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health noted that “despite the conclusions by IARC and the support from recent studies, the hypothesis that asbestos is [a] cause of ovarian cancer remains controversial.”[12] The same year, 2014, the relevant chapter in a leading textbook by Dr. Victor L. Roggli and colleagues opined that:

“the balance of the evidence available at present does not support an association between asbestos exposure and cancers of the female reproductive system.”[13]

Two years later, a text by Dr. Dorsett D. Smith cited “the lack of certainty of the pathologic diagnosis of ovarian cancer versus a peritoneal mesothelioma in epidemiologic studies” as making the epidemiology uninterpretable and any conclusions impossible.[14]

Against this backdrop of evidence, I took a look at what Johnson & Johnson had to say about the occupational asbestos epidemiology in its briefs, in section “B. Studies on asbestos and ovarian cancer.”[15] The defense acknowledged that plaintiffs’ expert witnesses Drs. Jacqueline Moline and Dean Felsher focused on the IARC conclusion, and on studies of heavy occupational exposure. J & J recited without comment or criticism what plaintiffs’ expert witnesses had testified, much of which was quite objectionable.[16]

For instance, Moline and Felsher both reprised the scientifically and judicially debunked views that there is “no known safe level of exposure,” from which they inferred the non-sequitur that “any amount above ordinary background levels – could cause ovarian cancer.”[17] From ignorance, nothing derives but conjecture.

Another example was Felsher’s testimony that asbestos can make the body of an ovarian cancer patient therapy-resistant. In response to these and other remarkable assertions, J & J countered with only the statement that their expert witness, Dr. Huh, “did not agree that all of this was true in the context of ovarian cancer.”[18]

Huh, indeed; that the defense expert witness disagree with some of what plaintiffs’ witnesses claimed hardly frames an issue for exclusion of any expert witness’s opinion. Even more disturbing, there is no appellate point that corresponds to a motion to exclude Dr Moline’s testimony.

The Egilman Challenge

There was a challenge to the testimony of another expert witness, David Egilman, a frequent testifier for Mark Lanier and other lawsuit industrialists. One of the challenges that the defendants made on appeal to the admissibility of Dr. David Egilman’s testimony was his use of a 1972 NIOSH study that apparently quantified exposure in terms of fibers per cubic centimeter, without specifying whether all fibers in the measurement were asbestos fibers, as opposed to non-asbestos fibers, including talc fibers.

The Missouri Court of Appeals rejected this specificc challenge in part because Egilman had explained that:

“whether the 1972 NIOSH study identified fibers specifically as ‘asbestos’ was inconsequential, as the only other possible fiber that could be present in a talc sample is a ‘talc fiber, which is chemically identical to anthophyllite asbestos and structurally the same’.”[19]

Talc typically crystallizes in small plates, but it can occur occasionally as fibers. Egilman, however, equated a talc fiber as chemically and structurally identical to an anthophyllite fiber.

Does Egilman’s opinion hold water?

No, Egilman has wet himself badly (assuming the Missouri appellate court quoted testimony accurately).

According to the Mineralogical Society of America’s Handbook of Mineralogy (and every other standard work on mineralogy I reviewed), anthophyllite and talc, whether in fibrous habit or not, are two different minerals, with very different chemical formulae, crystal chemistry, and structure.[20] Anthophyllite has the chemical formula: (Mg;Fe2+)2(Mg;Fe2+)5Si8O22(OH)2 and is an amphibole double chain silicate. Talc, on the other hand, is a phyllosilicate, a hydrated magnesium silicate with the chemical formula Mg3Si4O10(OH)2. Talc crystallizes in the triclinic class, although sometimes monoclinic, and crystals are platy and very soft.

If the Missouri Court of Appeals characterized Egilman’s testimony correctly on this point, then Egilman gave patently false testimony. Talc and anthophyllite are different chemically and structurally.


[1]  SeeThe Slemp Case, Part I – Jury Verdict for Plaintiff – 10 Initial Observations”; “The Slemp Case, Part 2 – Openings”; “ Slemp Trial Part 3 – The Defense Expert Witness – Huh”; “Slemp Trial Part 4 – Graham Colditz”; “ Slemp Trial Part 5 – Daniel W. Cramer”; “Lawsuit Magic – Turning Talcum into Wampum”; “Talc Litigation Supported by Slippery Expert Witness” (2017).

[2]  Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, No. No. ED107476, Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District (St. Louis) (June 23, 2020) (Slip op.).

[3]  Cara Salvatore, “Missouri Appeals Court Slashes $4.7B Talc Verdict Against J&J,” Law360 (June 23, 2020).

[4]  Jonathan M. Samet, et al., Asbestos: Selected Cancers Effects (I.O.M. Committee on Asbestos 2006).

[5]  International Agency for Research on Cancer, A Review of Human Carcinogens, Monograph Vol. 100, Part C: Arsenic, Metals, Fibres, and Dusts (2012).

[6]  Id. at 256. Some members followed up their controversial finding with an attempt to justify it with a meta-analysis; see M. Constanza Camargo, Leslie T. Stayner, Kurt Straif, Margarita Reina, Umaima Al-Alem, Paul A. Demers, and Philip J. Landrigan, “Occupational Exposure to Asbestos and Ovarian Cancer: A Meta-analysis,” 119 Envt’l Health Persp. 1211 (2011).

[7]  Alison Reid, Nick de Klerk, and Arthur W Musk, “Does Exposure to Asbestos Cause Ovarian Cancer? A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis,” 20 Cancer Epidemiol., Biomarkers & Prevention 1287 (2011) [Reid].

[8]  Reid at 1293, 1287.

[9]  Id. at 1293.

[10]  Id. at 1294.

[11]  Samuel Hammar, Richard A. Lemen, Douglas W. Henderson & James Leigh, “Asbestos and other cancers,” chap. 8, in Ronald F. Dodson & Samuel P. Hammar, eds., Asbestos: Risk Assessment, Epidemiology, and Health Effects 435 (2nd ed. 2011) (internal citation omitted).

[12]  Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Asbestos, Asbestosis and Cancer – Helsinki Criteria for Diagnosis and Attribution 60 (2014) (concluding that there was an increased risk in cohorts of women with “relatively high asbestos exposures”).

[13]  Faye F. Gao and Tim D. Oury, “Other Neoplasia,” chap. 8, in Tim D. Oury, Thomas A. Sporn & Victor L. Roggli, eds., in Pathology of Asbestos-Associated Diseases 177, 188 (3d ed. 2014).

[14]  Dorsett D. Smith, The Health Effects of Asbestos: An Evidence-based Approach 208 (2016).

[15]  Brief of Appellants Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., at 29, in Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, No. No. ED107476, Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District (St. Louis) (filed Sept. 6, 2019) [J&J Brief].

[16]  Id. at 30.

[17]  See Mark A. Behrens & William L. Anderson, “The ‘Any Exposure’ Theory: An Unsound Basis for Asbestos Causation and Expert Testimony,” 37 SW. U. L. Rev. 479 (2008); William L. Anderson, Lynn Levitan & Kieran Tuckley, “The ‘Any Exposure’ Theory Round II — Court Review of Minimal Exposure Expert Testimony in Asbestos and Toxic Tort Litigation Since 2008,” 22 Kans. J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 1 (2012); William L. Anderson & Kieran Tuckley, “The Any Exposure Theory Round III: An Update on the State of the Case Law 2012 – 2016,” Defense Counsel J. 264 (July 2016); William L. Anderson & Kieran Tuckley, “How Much Is Enough? A Judicial Roadmap to Low Dose Causation Testimony in Asbestos and Tort Litigation,” 42 Am. J. Trial Advocacy 38 (2018).

[18]  Id. at 30.

[19]  Slip op. at 54.

[20]  John W. Anthony, Richard A. Bideaux, Kenneth W. Bladh, and Monte C. Nichols, Handbook of Mineralogy (Mineralogical Soc’y of America 2001).

SKAPPOLOGY

May 26th, 2020

The Genetic Literacy Project (GLP) asks:

“Who is David and who is Goliath in the lobbying battle over agricultural biotechnology? Activists? Agro-business? In a commitment to transparency, the GLP has mined 5 years of data to help the public understand the funding network that shapes the biotechnology debate.”

The amount of money flowing into the campaign against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is astonishing, but it does not stop the hypocritical complaints against industry’s sponsorship of studies to help show the safety of GMOs. In a recent on-line article, the GLP has published charts to map contributions from not-for-profit non-governmental organizations to anti-biotechnology advocacy groups. Close to a billion dollars ($850M) flowed into the coffers of these organizations from 2012 to 2016. The GLP’s work on tracking this funding is commendable for bringing balance to the debate about the effect of corporate money on health and environmental issues. Corporate includes the lawsuit industry and the advocacy industries.

Well actually, it would be a wonderful world if the GLP’s tracking were unnecessary. In one such alternative universe, people would ask to examine the evidence for and against claims, and they would have a healthy respect for uncertainty.

Studies funded by parties are routinely relied upon in litigation, and they are often pivotal in how courts decide significant claims of environmental or occupational harm.[1] Unfortunately, the sponsorship of studies by plaintiffs’ counsel, third-party litigation funding entities, and advocacy groups is often obscured or hidden.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I recently happened upon an article of interest in an obscure journal, by a well-known author.[2]  The author, John C. Bailar, formerly an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, was  professor emeritus in the University of Chicago’s Department of Public Health Sciences. He died in September 2016. Bailar was a graduate of the Yale University medical school, and also held a doctorate in statistics.

There is nothing ground breaking in Bailar’s article, but it is a nice summary of the ways that errors can creep into the scientific literature, short of actual fabrication or falsification of data.[3] It is also worth reading because it is an article that comes from one of the several Coronado Conferences, sponsored by an advocacy organization that has fraudulently concealed its funding, The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, aka SKAPP.

To be sure, authors of SKAPP-funded articles have invariably cited their funding from SKAPP, and Bailar was no exception. Bailar made the following acknowledgements:

“Support for this paper was provided by The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. It is revised from a paper presented at SKAPP’s March 2006 Coronado Conference “Truth and Advocacy: The Quality and Nature of Litigation and Regulatory Science.” The papers from that conference will be published elsewhere.”[4]

The acknowledgement of support was rather anemic by SKAPP standards.  Most SKAPP-funded articles recited something closer to the following provided by David Michaels, who headed up SKAPP and worked as an expert witness for the litigation industry, until becoming the Administrator of the Occupational Health & Safety Administration, in President Obama’s administration:[5]

“DM [David Michaels] and CM [Celeste Monforton] are employed by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services as part of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP). Their salaries, in part, are funded by the Common Benefit Litigation Expense Trust, a fund established pursuant to a court order in the Silicone Gel Breast Implant Products Liability litigation. SKAPP’s funding is unrestricted; its funders are not given advance notice or the opportunity to review or approve any documents produced by the project. PL [Peter Lurie] is with Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.”

Michaels’ statement was perhaps a little more forthcoming, but few scientists or lay persons would know that his salary, and support, came from plaintiffs’ lawyers as part of an active litigation effort. Although Michaels claimed that the funding was unrestricted, like Big Tobacco funding, the sponsor, plaintiffs’ counsel, created a substantial selection effect in choosing beneficiaries who would deliver its pre-approved message. The Common Benefit Trust may sound like an eleemosynary, public-spirited, organization, with the imprimatur of the federal court system.  It was not.

Was Bailar influenced by his source of funding?  His topic would have permitted him many examples from the annals of science or litigation, but interestingly one of the few examples Bailar chose to give details about was a scientific dispute between the semiconductor industry and Richard Clapp, who was acting as an expert witness in litigation against that industry.  Although Clapp used a study design known to be inaccurate and biased, Bailar touted Clapp’s research over that sponsored by members of the industry.  Richard Clapp, in addition to have been an expert witness for the litigation industry on many occasions, also happened to have been a member of the SKAPP’s advisory committee. Hmmm.

Whence comes SKAPP funding?  SKAPP trades on most readers’ lack of familiarity with how “common benefit funds” are established.  They sound like some sort of disembodied charitable trust, such as the Pew. In fact, the silicone common benefit trust was nothing more than a funding device for mass federal litigation involving silicone breast implants. Ironically, the funding came from a litigation in which one leading judge described plaintiffs’ expert witnesses as “charlatans,” and the litigation claims as largely based upon fraud.[6] Cynics might believe that Bailar’s choice of Clapp versus the semiconductor industry, regardless of the merits, was driven by a desire to please SKAPP & Clapp.

The common benefit fund for the silicone-gel breast implant litigation was created by Order 13, “Establishing Plaintiffs’ Litigation Expense Fund to Compensate and Reimburse Attorneys for Services Performed and Expenses Incurred for Common Benefit.” The late Judge Sam Pointer, appointed to preside over MDL 926, In re Silicone Gel Breast Implants Products Liability Litigation, Master File No. CV 92-P-10000-S, entered the order on July 23, 1993.  Some of the pertinent terms of Order 13 illustrate how it was supposed to operate:

This order is entered in order to provide for the fair and equitable sharing among plaintiffs of the cost of special services performed and expenses incurred by attorneys acting for the common benefit of all plaintiffs.

  1. Plaintiffs’ Litigation Expense Fund to be Established. Plaintiffs’ National Liaison Counsel … are directed to establish an interest-bearing account to receive and disburse funds as provided in this order.

***

  1. Assessment.

(a)    All plaintiffs and their attorneys who, after this date, either agree — for a monetary consideration — to settle, compromise, dismiss, or reduce the amount of a claim or, with or without a trial, recover a judgment for monetary damages or other monetary relief, including both compensatory and punitive damages, with respect to a breast implant claim are hereby assessed:

(1)    5% of the “gross monetary recovery,” if the agreement is made or the judgment is entered after this date and before November 1, 1993, or

(2)    6% of the “gross monetary recovery,” if the agreement is made or the judgment is entered after October 31, 1993.

Defendants are directed to withhold this assessment from amounts paid to plaintiffs and their counsel, and to pay the assessment into the fund as a credit against the settlement or judgment.  ***

  1. Disbursements.

(a)    Payments may be made from the fund to attorneys who provide services or incur expenses for the joint and common benefit of plaintiffs in addition to their own client or clients.  Attorneys eligible are not limited to Plaintiffs’ National Liaison Counsel and members of Plaintiffs’ National Steering Committee, but include, for example, other attorneys called upon by them to assist in performing their responsibilities, State Liaison Counsel, and other attorneys performing similar responsibilities in state court actions in which the presiding state-court judge has imposed similar obligations upon plaintiffs to contribute to the fund.

(b)    Payments will be allowed only to compensate for special services performed, and to reimburse for special expenses incurred, for the joint and common benefit of all plaintiffs.

***

(c)    No amounts will be disbursed without review and approval by a committee of federal and state judicial officers to be designated by the court.  The committee may, however, utilize the services of a special master to assist in this review, and may authorize one or more of its members to act for the committee in approving particular types of applications for disbursement.

(d)    If the fund exceeds the amount needed to make payments as provided in this order, the court will order an refund to those who have contributed to the fund.  Any such refund will be made in proportion to the amount of the contributions.”

For a while, a defense lawyer, representing the defendants in the silicone MDL, participated in discussions concerning MDL 926 Order 13 funds, until the plaintiffs’ lawyers decided that his services were not needed, and excluded him from discussions of the use of the monies. The reality is that the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the silicone litigation were able to bamboozle the slim oversight committee into approving a propaganda campaign against Daubert gatekeeping, and that recipients of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ largesse were able to misrepresent their funding as though it were from a federal court.

There are further ironies connected with the silicone common benefit trust.  First, the silicone litigation was effectively over when the court-appointed expert witnesses’ reports that announced that the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses lacked sound scientific evidence to support conclusions of causation.  SKAPP’s website reports that its activities started around 2002, by which time both the court-appointed witnesses, as well as the British Ministry of Health, and the Institute of Medicine’s select committee had reported that there was no basis for the plaintiffs’ causal claims in litigation.[7] The second irony is that SKAPP, through its sponsorship of various research and writing projects, had made the recipients of SKAPP money, by the terms of Order 13, agents of the silicone plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients. Recipients of SKAPP funding who did not disclose that their support or salaries come from the coffers of plaintiffs’ counsel were engaged in misleading their readers and the scientific and legal communities.

I have written often in the past about SKAPP as an agent of plaintiffs’ counsel in mass tort litigation.[8] The concern is not new, but it has continuing significance because of the asymmetrical standard advanced by the lawsuit industry and its scientific advisors who seek to disqualify manufacturing industry and its scientific advisors from participating in scientific debate and argument about various health claims.[9]


[1]  See, e.g., Leaf River Forest Prods. v. Ferguson, 662 So. 2d 648, 657 (Miss. 1995) (litigation involving defense expert witness’s reliance upon dioxin studies funded by defendant paper mills); Maurer v. Heyer-Schulte Corp., No. Civ. A. 92-3485, 2002 WL 31819160 at *3 (E.D. La. Dec. 13, 2002) (granting defendant’s summary judgment against plaintiff’s claim that breast implants caused her harm; citing defendants’ sponsored epidemiologic studies showing no causal link, including epidemiologic study conducted in Sweden); Nat’l Res. Def. Council v. Evans, 232 F. Supp. 2d 1003, 1013 (N.D. Cal. 2002) (“commend[ing] defendants’ sponsorship of independent scientific research…”); FTC v. Pantron I, Corp., 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21858 (C.D. Cal. Sept 6, 1991) (finding study funded by defendants met “basic and fundamental requirements for scientific validity and reliability”).

[2]  John C. Bailar, “How to distort the scientific record without actually lying: truth, and the arts of science,” 11 European J. Oncol. 217 (2006).

[3]  Id. at 218.

[4]  Id. at 223.

[5]  David Michaels, Celeste Monforton & Peter Lurie, “Selected science: an industry campaign to undermine an OSHA hexavalent chromium standard,” 65 Envt’l Health 5 (2006).

[6]     Hon. Jack B. Weinstein, “Preliminary Reflections on Administration of Complex Litigation” 2009 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo 1, 14 (2009).

[7]   Independent Review Group, Silicone Breast Implants: The Report of the Independent Review Group 8, 22-23 (July 1998) (concluding that there was no demonstrable risk of connective tissue disease from silicone breast implants); Stuart Bondurant, Virginia Ernster, and Roger Herdman, eds., Safety of Silicone Breast Implants (1999) (rejecting plaintiffs’ theories and litigation claims of systemic disease).

[8]   “SKAPP A LOT” (April 30, 2010); “Manufacturing Certainty” (Oct. 25, 2011); “David Michaels’ Public Relations Problem” (Dec. 2, 2011); “Conflicted Public Interest Groups” (Nov. 3, 2013). See also Walter Olson, Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America 121-22 (2011); David E. Bernstein & Eric G. Lasker, “Defending Daubert: It’s Time to Amend Federal Rule of Evidence 702,” 57 William & Mary L. Rev. 1, 39 & n.211 (2015); Ted Frank, “Daubert Debate,” Overlawyered (July 5, 2003); Peter Nordberg, “Bernstein on SKAPP (part 1),” Daubert on the Web (Jul)y 02, 2003).

[9]   Consider the media hysteria over former President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Robert Califf, to serve as Chair of the Food and Drug Administration.[9] The criticism was based upon his having served as the founding director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, which received funding directly from pharmaceutical companies. The Senate confirmed Califf (89 to 4), but the controversy highlights the hypocrisy in play. Brady Dennis, “Senate confirms Robert Califf as new FDA commissioner,” Wash. Post (Feb. 24, 2016).

Dark Money, Scott Augustine, and Hot Air

April 11th, 2020

Fraud by the litigation industry takes many different forms. In the massive silicosis litigation unleashed in Mississippi and Texas in the early 2000s, plaintiffs’ lawyers colluded with physicians to concoct dubious diagnoses of silicosis. Fraudulent diagnoses of silicosis led to dismissals of thousands of cases, as well as the professional defrocking of some physician witnesses.[1] For those trying to keep up with lawsuit industry’s publishing arm, discussion of the Great Silicosis Fraud is completely absent from David Michaels’ recent book, The Triumph of Doubt.[2] So too is any mention of “dark money” that propelled the recently concluded Bair Hugger litigation.

Back in 2017, I wrote about the denial of a Rule 702 motion in the Bair Hugger litigation.[3] At the time, I viewed the trial court’s denial, on the facts of the case, to be a typical failure of gatekeeping.[4] Events in the Bair Hugger cases were only warming up in 2017.

After the court’s ruling, 3M took the first bellwether case to trial and won the case with jury, on May 30, 2018. Perhaps this jury verdict encouraged the MDL trial judge to take 3M’s motion for reconsideration of the Rule 702 motion seriously. In July 2019, the MDL court granted 3M’s motion to exclude the opinion testimony of plaintiffs’ general causation and mechanism expert witnesses, Drs. Jarvis, Samet, Stonnington, and Elghobashi.[5] Without these witnesses, over 5,000 plaintiffs, who had been misled about the merits of their cases, were stranded and set up for dismissal. On August 2, 2019, the MDL cases were dismissed for want of evidentiary support on causation. On August 29, 2019, plaintiffs filed a joint notice of appeal to the Eight Circuit.

The two Bair Hugger Rule 702 federal court decisions focused (or failed to focus) on scientific considerations. Most of the story of “dark money” and the manufacturing of science to support the litigation were suppressed in the Rule 702 motion practice, and in the federal jury trial. In her second Rule 702 reconsideration opinion, the MDL judge did mention undisclosed conflicts of interest by authors of the key studies relied upon by plaintiffs’ witnesses.[6]

To understand how the Bair Hugger litigation got started, and to obtain a full understanding of the nature of the scientific evidence was, a disinterested observer will have to read the state court decisions. Defendant 3M moved to exclude plaintiffs’ causation expert witnesses, in its Minnesota state court cases, under the so-called Frye standard. In response, the state judge excluded plaintiffs’ witnesses for advancing a novel scientific theory that lacked acceptance in the relevant scientific community. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, with a decision that talked rather more freely about the plaintiffs’ counsel’s dark money. In re 3M Bair Hugger Litig., 924 N.W.2d 16 (Minn. App. 2019) [cited as Bair Hugger].

As the Minnesota Court of Appeals explained, a forced-air warming device (FAWD) is a very important, useful device to keep patients’ body temperatures normal during surgery. The “Bair Hugger” is a FAWD, which was invented in 1987, by Dr. Scott Augustine, an anesthesiologist, who at the time was the chief executive officer of Augustine Medical, Inc. Bair Hugger at 19.

In the following 15 years, the Bair Hugger became the leading FAWD in the world. In 2002, the federal government notified Augustine that it was investigating him for Medicare fraud. Augustine resigned from the company that bore his name, and the company purged the taint by reorganizing as Arizant Healthcare Inc. (Arizant), which continued to make the Bair Hugger. In the following year, 2003, Augustine pleaded guilty to fraud and paid a $2 million fine. His sentence included a five-year ban from involvement in federal health-care programs.

During the years of his banishment, fraudfeasor Augustine developed a rival product and then embarked upon a global attack on the safety of his own earlier invention, the Bair Hugger. In the United Kingdom, his claim that the Bair Hugger increased risks of surgical site infections attacks was rejected by the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. A German court enjoined Augustine from falsely claiming that the Bair Hugger led to increased bacterial contamination.[7] The United States FDA considered and rejected Augustine’s claims, and recommended the use of FAWDs.

In 2009, Augustine began to work as a non-testifying expert witness with the Houston, Texas, plaintiffs’ law firm of Kennedy Hodges LLP. A series of publications resulted in which the authors attempted to raise questions about the safety of the Bair Hugger. By 2013, with the medical literature “seeded” with several studies attacking the Bair Hugger, the Kennedy Hodges law firm began to manufacture law suits against Arizant and 3M (which had bought the Bair Hugger product line from Arizant in 2010). Bair Hugger at 20.

The seeding studies were marketing and litigation propaganda used by Augustine to encourage the all-too-complicit lawsuit industry to ramp up production of complaints against 3M over the Bair Hugger. Several of the plaintiffs’ studies included as an author a young statistician, Mark Albrecht, an employee of, or a contractor for, Augustine’s new companies, Augustine Temperature Management and Augustine Medical. Even when disclosures were made, they were at best “anemic”:

“The author or one or more of the authors have received or will receive benefits for personal or professional use from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article.”[8]

Some of these studies generally included a disclosure that Albrecht was funded or employed by Augustine, but they did not disclose the protracted, bitter feud or Augustine’s confessed fraudulent conduct. Another author of some of the plaintiffs’ studies included David Leaper, who was a highly paid “consultant’’ to Augustine at the time of the work on the study. None of the studies disclosed Leaper’s consultancy for Augustin:

  1. Mark Albrecht, Robert Gauthier, and David Leaper, “Forced air warming, a source of airborne contamination in the operating room?” 1 Orthopedic Rev. (Pavia) e28 (2009)
  2. Mark Albrecht, Robert L. Gauthier, Kumar Belani, Mark Litchy, and David Leaper, “Forced-air warming blowers: An evaluation of filtration adequacy and airborne contamination emissions in the operating room,” 39 Am. J. Infection Control 321 (2011)
  3. P.D. McGovern, Mark Albrecht, Kumar Belani, C. Nachtsheim, “Forced-air warming and ultra-clean ventilation do not mix,” 93 J. Bone & Joint Surg. – British 1537 (2011)
  4. K.B. Dasari, Mark Albrecht, and M. Harper, “Effect of forced-air warming on the performance of operating-theatre laminar-flow ventilation,” 67 Anaesthesia 244 (2012)
  5. Mike Reed, Oliver Kimberger, Paul D. McGovern, and Mark C. Albrecht, “Forced-Air Warming Design: Evaluation of Intake Filtration, Internal Microbial Buildup, and Airborne-Contamination Emissions,” 81 Am. Ass’n Nurse Anesthetists 275 (2013)
  6. Kumar Belani, Mark Albrecht, Paul McGovern, Mike Reed, and Christopher Nachtsheim, “Patient warming excess heat: the effects on orthopedic operating room ventilation performance,” 117 Anesthesia & Analgesia 406 (2013)

In one study, Augustine’s employee Mark Albrecht conducted the experiment with one of the authors, but was not listed as an author although he wrote an early draft of the study. Augustine provided all the equipment used in the experiment. The published paper failed to disclose any of these questionable activities:

  1. A.J. Legg & A.J. Hammer, “Forced-air patient warming blankets disrupt unidirectional flow,” 95 Bone & Joint J. 407 (2013)

Another study had more peripheral but still questionable involvement of Augustine, whose company lent the authors equipment used to conduct the study, without proper acknowledgment and disclosure:

  1. A.J. Legg, T. Cannon, and A. J. Hamer, “Do forced-air warming devices disrupt unidirectional downward airflow?” 94 J. Bone & Joint Surg. – British 254 (2012)

In addition to the defects in the authors’ disclosures, 3M discovered that two of the studies had investigated whether the Bair Hugger spread bacteria in the surgical area. Although the experiments found no spread with the Bair Hugger, the researchers never publicly disclosed their exculpatory evidence.[9]

Augustine’s marketing campaign, through these studies, ultimately fell flat at the FDA, which denied his citizen’s petition and recommended that surgeons continue to use FAWDs such as the Bair Hugger.[10] Augustine’s proxy litigation war against 3M also fizzled, unless the 8th Circuit revives his vendetta. Nonetheless, the Augustine saga raises serious questions about how litigation funding of “scientific studies” will vex the search for the truth in pharmaceutical products litigation. The Augustine attempt to pollute the medical literature was relatively apparent, but dark money from undisclosed financiers may require greater attention from litigants and from journal editors.


[1]  In re Silica Products Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1553, 398 F. Supp. 2d 563 (S.D.Tex. 2005).

[2]  David Michaels, The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception (2020).

[3]  In re Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming, MDL No. 15-2666, 2017 WL 6397721 (D. Minn. Dec. 13, 2017).

[4]  “Gatekeeping of Expert Witnesses Needs a Bair Hug” (Dec. 20, 2017).

[5]  In re Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Devices Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 15-2666, 2019 WL 4394812 (D. Minn. July 31, 2019). See Joe G. Hollingsworth & Caroline Barker, “Exclusion of Junk Science in ‘Bair Hugger’ MDL Shows Daubert Is Still Breathing,” Wash. Leg. Foundation (Jan 23, 2020); Christine Kain, Patrick Reilly, Hannah Anderson and Isabelle Chammas, “Top 5 Drug And Medical Device Developments Of 2019,” Law360 (Jan. 9, 2020).

[6]  In re Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Devices Prods. Liab. Litig., 2019 WL 4394812, at *10 n.13 (D. Minn. July 31, 2019) (observing that “[i]n the published study, the authors originally declared no conflicts of interest”).

[7]  Dr. Augustine has never been a stranger to the judicial system. See, e.g., Augustine Medical, Inc. v. Gaymar Industries, Inc., 181 F.3d 1291 (Fed. Cir. 1999); Augustine Medical, Inc. v. Progressive Dynamics, Inc., 194 F.3d 1367 (Fed. Cir. 1999); Cincinnati Sub-Zero Products, Inc. v. Augustine Medical, Inc., 800 F. Supp. 1549 (S.D. Ohio 1992).

[8]  P.D. McGovern, Mark Albrecht, Kumar Belani, and C. Nachtsheim, “Forced-air warming and ultra-clean ventilation do not mix,” 93 J. Bone & Joint Surg. – British 1537, 1544 (2011).

[9]  See https://www.truthaboutbairhugger.com/truth-science-behind-claims-3m-bair-hugger-system-look-augustine-connections-research-studies/.

[10]  William Maisel, “Information about the Use of Forced Air Thermal Regulating Systems – Letter to Health Care Providers”; Center for Devices and Radiological Health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Aug. 30, 2017).