TORTINI

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

Succès de scandale – With Thanks to Rosner & Markowitz

March 26th, 2017

for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

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

Some years ago, I co-chaired a Mealey’s conference on silicosis litigation. When plaintiffs’ counsel participate in such events, they are usually trolling for business, and jockeying for position on litigation steering committees. Ethical defense counsel are looking to put themselves out of business. My goal at the conference was to show that there was no there, there, so don’t go there. Mostly, the history of the litigation has proven me correct. In the early years of the 21st century, there were well over 10,000 cases pending. Now, there are just a hand full of pending cases. Very little money has been given to plaintiffs’ counsel; almost no sand companies have gone bankrupt.

At that Mealey’s conference, I presented a paper, which I later allowed Mealey’s to publish in its Silica Reporter. The paper became something of a “succès de scandale,” at least in getting under the skin of the Marxist historians, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, whom I took to task. In at least four of their publications, they have attempted unsuccessfully to rebut my arguments, and to criticize me for making them.1 At a meeting of the Committee on Science, Technology and the Law, of the National Academies of Science, I found myself presenting alongside Markowitz, on access to underlying study data. Markowitz played the victim of legal counsel’s subpoenas to his publisher for peer review comments in vinyl chloride, which grew out of his participation in the vinyl chloride litigation as an expert witness.2

I was on the panel for having served a subpoena upon Dr. Brad Racette for the underlying data of a study of parkinsonism in welders, with support in the form of the financial largesse of felon Richard Scruggs. Rosner was at this meeting only as a spectator, but he did not miss the opportunity, at a break, to get in my face, with the obvious intent of bullying me, with warnings that I would regret having ever written about them.

Back in 2007, the lawsuit-industry funded SKAPP conducted a conference, at which Rosner presented. I was not present, but a friend wrote me later, “Boy, does Rosner not like you. You steal a puppy from him or something?” When I presented at the Fourth International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health, in 2010, Rosner repeated his Middlebury behavior. As soon as I finished my talk, he rushed for the microphone and filibustered the entire question and answer period.3 I would chalk this up to fascisti of the left, except the very nice socialist historian who chaired my panel apologized profusely afterwards.

In a revised edition of one of their historical potboilers, Rosner and Markowitz repeated their calumny:

It was not just the lead and chemical industries that saw our book and the evidence we presented as a threat. Nathan Schachtman, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based firm McCarter & English, and who defended companies sued for ‘exposures to allegedly toxic substances, including asbestos, benzene, cobalt isocyanates, silica and solvents’, also published an attack on us in Mealey’s Litigation Report: Silica, titled, ‘On Deadly Dust and Histrionic Historians’. In his attack on our earlier book, Deadly Dust, a history of the devastating lung disease silicosis, he accused us of writing a ‘jeremiad’ that ‘resonates to the passions and prejudices of the last century’. He took us to task for our ‘prejudice’ that ‘silicosis results from the valuation of profits over people’ and admonished us to point out the higher rates of silicosis in Communist countries. ‘They [the authors] fairly consistently excuse or justify the actions of labor… . They excoriate the motives and actions of industry’. But Schachtman’s true agenda emerged in the middle of his third paragraph. ‘We could safely leave the fate of Rosner’s and Markowitz’s historical scholarship to their community of academicians and historians if not for one discomforting fact,’ he wrote. ‘The views of Rosner and Markowitz have become part of the passion play that we call silicosis litigation.’16

Schachtman seemed to be saying that as long as academics speak only to one another and had no influence beyond academia, they can be tolerated. But once they begin to affect that wider world, they need to be put back in their place. All this despite the fact that, at the time of Schachtman’s piece, more than a decade after the publication of Deadly Dust in 1991, each of us had appeared on the stand in only one case.”4

Rosner and Markowitz get virtually everything wrong, but one factoid may have been true. As of 1991, Rosner and Markowitz had perhaps only “appeared on the stand in only one case,” but by the time I wrote the article in 2005, the Marxist duo had been listed as expert witnesses in hundreds, if not thousands, of cases. The language quoted above appeared in an “Epilogue” to a 2013 publication, by which time Rosner and Markowitz each had testified over a dozen times, as professional historian “arguers.” Only Markowitz testified in vinyl chloride cases, from what I can make out, but the two of them testified in many silica, asbestos, and lead cases by the time they published their Epilogue.

One obvious point is that Rosner and Markowitz are both rather disingenuous in portraying themselves as innocent academics without connections to the lawsuit industry. In their world, they seek victim status to hide their long-standing partisanship in litigation issues. The real point, however, is that Rosner and Markowitz have never rebutted my arguments that silicosis was worse for workers in East Germany, the Soviet Union, Maoist China, under communist rule than it was in the post-1935 era in the United States. Unlike the rising incidence of asbestosis, the incidence of silicosis in the United States has steadily and significantly declined after World War II. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control has held up the control of silicosis as one of the ten great public achievements in 20th century United States.5 SeeRamazzini Serves Courtroom Silica Science Al Dente” (July 25, 2015) (showing CDC data on declining silicosis incidence in the United States, against the rising trend in asbestosis incidence).


1 To date I have found four articles that dwell on the issue. See D. Rosner & G. Markowitz, “The Trials and Tribulations of Two Historians:  Adjudicating Responsibility for Pollution and Personal Harm, 53 Medical History 271, 280-81 (2009); D. Rosner & G. Markowitz, “L’histoire au prétoire.  Deux historiens dans les procès des maladies professionnelles et environnementales,” 56 Revue D’Histoire Moderne & Contemporaine 227, 238-39 (2009); David Rosner, “Trials and Tribulations:  What Happens When Historians Enter the Courtroom,” 72 Law & Contemporary Problems 137, 152 (2009); David Rosner & Gerald Markowitz, “The Historians of Industry” Academe (Nov. 2010).

2 Markowitz was excluded in at least one case in which he was disclosed as a testifying expert witness. Quester v. B.F. Goodrich Co., Case No. 03-509539, Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga Cty., Ohio, Order Sur Motion to Exclude Dr. Gerald Markowitz (Sweeney, J.).

3 Nathan Schachtman & John Ulizio, “Courting Clio:  Historians and Their Testimony in Products Liability Action,” in: Brian Dolan & Paul Blanc, eds., At Work in the World: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health, Perspectives in Medical Humanities, University of California Medical Humanities Consortium, University of California Press (2012); Schachtman, “On Deadly Dust & Histrionic Historians 041904,”; How Testifying Historians Are Like Lawn-Mowing Dogs” (May 15, 2010); A Walk on the Wild Side (July 16, 2010); Counter Narratives for Hire (Dec. 13, 2010); Historians Noir (Nov. 18, 2014).

4 Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution at 313-14 (U. Calif. rev. ed. 2013). Footnote 16 was a reference to Nathan A. Schachtman, “On Deadly Dust and Histrionic Historians: Preliminary Thoughts on History and Historians as Expert Witnesses,” 2 Mealey’s Silica Litigation Report Silica 1, 2 (November 2003). Their language quoted above was largely self-plagiarized from Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, “The Historians of Industry” (Nov. – Dec. 2010). 

5 CDC, “Ten Great Public Health Achievements — United States, 1900-1999,” 48 Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 241 (April 02, 1999).

The Webb of Unsophistication in Products Liability Law

May 29th, 2016

The Heart of the Matter

The classic early cases in products liability law were about consumers hurt by consumer products, sold by manufacturers or dealers directly to consumers. The key component of these cases was inequality of bargaining power, of knowledge about latent defects or hazards, and of control over the discovery of latent hazards or defects. American products liability law was created around consumer products.  Just think of Henningsen, Escola, and MacPherson.[1]  These were all consumer products for which the rhetoric about inequality of bargaining, knowledge, and control over design, manufacturing, and latent hazards sometimes makes sense. The paradigmatic model for products liability, however, frequently does not work for the three-way relationship of sales of products to large industrial employers. The model especially does not work when the product is a raw material used throughout a factory, or incorporated into another product.

Many courts have failed to come to grips with the inadequacy of the consumer model for products liability cases in instances of occupational harm to industrial employees.  Courts have been trying to ram this square peg into a round hole since the early asbestos litigation (which perhaps made some sense because there was inequality between Johns Manville and most vendees), but makes no sense when John Manville is itself the purchaser.

The Tangled Webb in California Law

The Webb case received some attention after the California Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s entry of JNOV for defendant Special Electric on the so-called sophisticated intermediary defense.  SeeCalifornia Supreme Court Set To Untangle Webb” (July 7, 2013); “Big Blue & The Sophisticated User and Intermediary Defenses” (Sept. 27, 2014); G. Jeff Coons, What a Tangled Webb We Weave: Court Imposes Failure to Warn Liability On Supplier to Johns-Manville” (April 2013). Special Electric petition for review, and eventually the California Supreme Court called for full briefing and oral argument in the Webb case.

The wheels of justice grind slowly in California. Special Electric filed its opening brief on the merits, on September 10, 2013. Webb’s widow answered in December 2013, and Special Electric replied in February 2014. Several amici curiae joined the fray in April 2014. Mark A. Behrens filed a brief on behalf of the Coalition for Litigation Justice, Inc., Chamber of Commerce, NFIB Small Business Legal Center, and American Chemistry Council. The Pacific Legal Foundation also filed, as did Elementis Chemicals Inc.

After mulling over the briefs for two years, the California Supreme Court heard argument on March 1, 2016, and then in surprisingly short order, affirmed the intermediate appellate, earlier this week. The Supreme Court’s ruling upheld a Court of Appeal’s decision that reversed a judgment for defendant Special Electric, based upon a jury verdict in favor of William Webb, who was exposed to crocidolite sold by Special Electric, and which caused him to develop mesothelioma in 2011. The Supreme Court’s opinion[2] held that sophisticated intermediary doctrine was a complete legal defense, even potentially for an asbestos supplier, but declined to apply it to the benefit of Special Electric, which had misrepresented facts about crocidolite and offered no evidence that its purchaser was sophisticated about crocidolite asbestos and its unique relationship with mesothelioma. [Slip opinion cited here as Webb.] Webb v. Special Elec. Co., Inc., 2016 BL 163642, Cal., No. S209927, 5/23/16).

The majority opinion[3] fortunately was able to separate the poorly framed and supported defense by Special Electric from the basic tenets of tort law and the sophisticated intermediary defense. To the extent that anyone doubted the validity of the sophisticated intermediary defense, the Webb Court formally adopted the doctrine as the law of California, as set out in the Second and Third Restatements of Tort Law. Webb at 15-16. According to the Court, a defendant may set up sophisticated intermediary doctrine as a complete defense, to failure to warn claims for known or knowable product risks, sounding in negligence or in strict liability, when the defendant supplier:

“(1) provides adequate warnings to the product’s immediate purchaser, or sells to a sophisticated purchaser that it knows is aware or should be aware of the specific danger, and

(2) reasonably relies on the purchaser to convey appropriate warnings to downstream users who will encounter the product.”

Webb at 16 (emphasis in original).[4]

As an affirmative defense, the defendant supplier must carry its burden of showing that it adequately warned the intermediary, or that it knew the intermediary knew or should have known of the specific hazard, and that it reasonably relied upon the purchaser to transmit warnings. Id.

On appeal, the California Supreme Court held that defendant Special Electric failed to preserve its entitlement to the sophisticated intermediary defense because “it never attempted to show that it actually or reasonably relied on Johns-Manville to warn end users. Nor did Special Electric request a jury instruction or verdict form question on the sophisticated intermediary doctrine.” Webb at 23.

Alternatively, on the assumption that Special Electric preserved the defense, the Court held that this defendant failed to establish the defense as a matter of law because:

“[a]lthough the record clearly shows Johns-Manville was aware of the risks of asbestos in general, no evidence established it knew about the particularly acute risks posed by the crocidolite asbestos Special Electric supplied. In addition, plaintiffs presented evidence that at least one Special Electric salesperson told customers crocidolite was safer than other types of asbestos fiber, when the opposite was true.”

Webb at 23.

The Webb Court reviewed the Tort Restatements’ embrace of the sophisticated intermediary defense in both the Second and Third editions.  The Webb Court noted that the Third Restatement demonstrated the continued validity and vitality of the defense, as had been expressed in the Section 388 of the Restatement Second of Torts.[5] The Court noted and followed the Third Restatement’s recitation of guiding considerations for invoking and sustaining the defense:

“There is no general rule as to whether one supplying a product for the use of others through an intermediary has a duty to warn the ultimate product user directly or may rely on the intermediary to relay warnings. The standard is one of reasonableness in the circumstances. Among the factors to be considered are the gravity of the risks posed by the product, the likelihood that the intermediary will convey the information to the ultimate user, and the feasibility and effectiveness of giving a warning directly to the user.”

Webb at 15 (citing Restatement 3d Torts, Products Liability, § 2, com. i, at p. 30.) Citing California precedent, the Webb Court noted that

“[t]he focus of the [sophisticated intermediary] defense . . . is whether the danger in question was so generally known within the trade or profession that a manufacturer should not have been expected to provide a warning specific to the group to which plaintiff belonged.”

Webb at 9-10 (quoting from Johnson v. American Standard, Inc. 43 Cal.4th 56, 72 (2008).  The pertinent legal test is whether a reasonable supplier would have known of the intermediary’s sophistication with respect to the relevant risk. Webb at 20.[6] Of course, the existence of a pervasive regulatory control of risk creation, detection, and mitigation in the workplace would count heavily in this objective test.  “Every person has a right to presume that every other perform his duty and obey the law.” Webb at 21 (internal citation omitted) (emphasis added).

The Restatement factors, however, did not support Special Electric’s invocation of the defense in a case involving:

(1) crocidolite asbestos, one of the most hazardous substances known,

(2) defendant’s affirmative and blatantly false misrepresentations of the relative safety of crocidolite relative to chrysotile asbestos,[7] and

(3) a complete failure of proof that the purchaser, Johns Manville, knew that crocidolite was especially hazardous with respect to the causation of mesothelioma.

Webb at 23-24. Factors one and two were givens for defense counsel, but factor three speaks to unnecessary coyness on the part of the defense.  Showing that Johns Manville was well aware of the extraordinarily great hazard of crocidolite would have been relatively easy to do from past transcripts, articles, speeches, and litigation conduct of the Johns Manville companies. Despite the extreme hazards from uncontrolled asbestos exposures, the Webb case explained that the sophisticated intermediary defense was not per se inapplicable to asbestos cases, and went so far as to disapprove an earlier California Court of Appeals decision that refused to apply the defense in the asbestos personal injury context when no warnings had been given.[8] “Sophistication obviates the need for warnings because a sophisticated purchaser already knows or should know of the relevant risks.” Webb at 17-18.

The Webb case acknowledged that defective design claims against raw material suppliers are incoherent and invalid, whether for the raw material itself, or for downstream design defect claims against for the product with the incorporated raw material. “[A] basic raw material such as sand, gravel, or kerosene cannot be defectively designed.” Webb at 11-12 (quoting from Restatement 3d Torts, Products Liability, § 5, com. c, at p. 134).[9]

The Webb Court also evinced a healthy disrespect for the notion that tort law is only about spreading risk and compensating injured persons. The Court acknowledged that in some instances, there were competing policies of compensating persons injured by products and “encouraging conduct that can feasibly be performed.” Webb at 2. The Court also acknowledged that there were hazards to warning when none was needed or when the absence of a warning would not be a legal cause of harm:

“Because sophisticated users already know, or should know, about the product’s dangers, the manufacturer’s failure to warn is not the legal cause of any harm. A sophisticated user’s knowledge is thus the equivalent of prior notice. The defense serves public policy, because requiring warnings of obvious or generally known product dangers could invite consumer disregard and contempt for warnings in general.”

Webb at 9 (internal citations omitted) (emphasis added). Furthermore, the sophisticated intermediary defense balances the need for the worker-consumer’s safety with “the practical realities of supplying products.” Webb at 17.

The Webb decision puts California in line with the majority rule that recognizes the validity of the sophisticated intermediary defense, and embraces real-world truth that:

“[in] some cases, the buyer’s sophistication can be a substitute for actual warnings, but this limited exception only applies if the buyer was so knowledgeable about the material supplied that it knew or should have known about the particular danger.”

Webb at 17.[10] The Court noted and agreed with the Restatement Third’s observation that imposing liability upon raw material suppliers for failure to warn can be unduly and unfairly burdensome when such liability would require remote suppliers

“to develop expertise regarding a multitude of different end-products and to investigate the actual use of raw materials by manufacturers over whom the supplier has no control.”

Webb at 12 (quoting from Restatement 3d Torts, Products Liability, § 5, com. c, at p. 134).

Concurrence

Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, along with Justice Ming W. Chin, concurred in the result, but dissented from the majority’s rationale as overly broad. The concurring justices insisted that a supplier reasonably relies upon its purchaser only when the purchaser has actual awareness of the product’s risks. Webb concurrence at 4. Even this stingier approach noted that one of the purpose of warnings is

“to enable the consumer or others who might come in contact with the product to choose not to expose themselves to the risks presented.”

Webb Concurrence at 3 (citing Restatement3d Torts, Products Liability, § 2, com. i, at p. 30).  In many sophisticated intermediary contexts involving occupational exposures to fumes, vapors, and dusts, workers (consumers) cannot appreciate whether they might come in contact with the product such that they have actual risks unless the sophisticated intermediary measures its specific workplace exposures, given its actual engineering, administrative, and person protection controls.

Commentary

The Webb Court failed to address in any meaningful form how Special Electric could discharge a duty to warn Mr. Webb directly, when it sold blue asbestos to Johns-Manville, which then incorporated that fiber, along with other recycled asbestos into transite pipes. To this extent, the Webb decision carries forward the glib belief in efficacy of warnings, without any evidence or critical thought.

It is hard to imagine an industrial purchaser that was unaware of the special hazards of crocidolite by 1970, and yet Special Electric apparently failed to offer evidence on the issue whether Johns-Manville had such awareness. A court might take judicial notice of Johns-Manville sophistication, but there is not even the suggestion that Special Electric attempted to supplement the vacuous record with a request for judicial notice.

If the California Supreme Court’s recitation of the facts of the case is correct, then we are left with an unflattering inference about Special Electric’s trial strategy and execution.  Perhaps Special Electric was coyly trying to avoid a downside outcome in which it was responsible for 99.99% of the verdict because its blue asbestos was by far the most important cause of Mr. Webb’s tragic disease, a disease that would have almost certainly been avoided had never had exposure to blue asbestos. The propensity of crocidolite to cause mesothelioma is orders of magnitude greater than chrysotile, which by itself may not even be a competent cause of the harm suffered by Mr. Webb.

In the final analysis, the Webb Court correctly adopted the sophisticated intermediary principle as an essential limit to tort liability, but denied its benefit to Special Electric.  The sophisticated intermediary doctrine should not, however, be conceived of as an affirmative defense.  The scope of the rule is defined by the rationale for its existence, and the sophisticated intermediary situation lies outside the realm and rationale of protecting, by warning, consumers against latent hazards.  It is time that courts recognize that much litigation brought to its doors is really the result of labor-management issues within the workplace, and not the doings or responsibility of remote suppliers of raw materials.


[1] See, e.g, MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050 (1916) (holding that privity of contract did not bar suit and that product manufacturers could be liable to consumers for injuries); Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc., 32 N.J. 358, 161 A.2d 69 (1960); Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Co., 24 Cal. 2d 453, 150 P. 2d 436  (1944).

[2] See Steven Sellers, “California Ruling Defines Asbestos Supplier’s Duty to Warn,” BNA Product Safety & Liability Reporter (May 24, 2016).

[3] The majority opinion was written by Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan, and joined by Associate Justices Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra R. Kruger.

[4] See also Webb at 2 (“Under the sophisticated intermediary doctrine, the supplier can discharge this duty if it conveys adequate warnings to the material’s purchaser, or sells to a sufficiently sophisticated purchaser, and reasonably relies on the purchaser to convey adequate warnings to others, including those who encounter the material in a finished product. Reasonable reliance depends on many circumstances, including the degree of risk posed by the material, the likelihood the purchaser will convey warnings, and the feasibility of directly warning end users.”); Webb at 6 (“[T]he sophisticated intermediary doctrine provides that a supplier can discharge its duty to warn if it provides adequate warnings, or sells to a sufficiently sophisticated buyer, and reasonably relies on the buyer to warn end users about the harm.”). Webb at 17 (“If a purchaser is so knowledgeable about a product that it should already be aware of the product’s particular dangers, the seller is not required to give actual warnings telling the buyer what it already knows.”).

[5] See Webb at 15 (“The drafters intended this comment to be substantively the same as section 388, comment n, of the Restatement Second of Torts.”) (citing Restatement 3d Torts, Products Liability, § 2, com. i, reporter’s note 5, at p. 96; Humble Sand & Gravel Inc. v. Gomez, 146 S.W.3d 170, 190 (Tex. 2004). See also Webb at 9 (citing Restatement 2d Torts, § 388 (b), com. k, at pp. 306-307) (“Courts have interpreted section 388, subdivision (b), to mean that if the manufacturer reasonably believes the user will know or should know about a given product’s risk”).

[6] Relevant considerations may include the general dissemination of knowledge of relevant risks, the intermediary’s knowledge of those risks, and the intermediary’s reputation for care. Webb at 20.

[7] Webb at 3, 23.

[8] See Webb at 17-18 (disapproving of the holding in Stewart v. Union Carbide Corp., 190 Cal. App. 4th 23, 29-30 (2010)).

[9] See also Webb at 12 (quoting from Restatement 3d Torts, Products Liability, § 5, com. c, at p. 134) (“Inappropriate decisions regarding the use of such materials are not attributable to the supplier of the raw materials but rather to the fabricator that puts them to improper use.”).

[10] citing approvingly Cimino v. Raymark Industries, Inc., 151 F.3d 297, 334 (5th Cir. 1998) (holding that raw asbestos supplier did not need to warn asbestos product manufacturer Fibreboard, which was “a sophisticated, expert, and knowledgeable manufacturer” of insulation products, about asbestos risks); Higgins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 671 F. Supp. 1055, 1061-1062  (D. Md. 1987) (exculpating supplier when purchaser was a highly sophisticated manufacturer with knowledge from independent sources, as well as its suppliers), aff’d, 863 F.2d 1162 (4th Cir. 1988).

Ramazzini Serves Courtroom Silica Science Al Dente

July 25th, 2015

Collegium Ramazzini styles itself as an “independent, international academy.” The Collegium Ramazzini was founded in 1982, by the late Irving Selikoff and others to serve as an advocacy forum for their pro-compensation and aggressive regulation views on social and political issues involving occupational and environmental health.

The Collegium is a friendly place where plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, consultants, and advocates never have to declare their conflicts of interest.[1] Last year, in October 2014, the Collegium conducted a conference on silica health issues, entitled “Silica Three Hundred Years Later: Occupational Exposure, Medical Monitoring, and Regulation.”

The silica session was chaired by Christine Oliver, one of plaintiff’s key expert witnesses in Allen v. Martin Surfacing, 263 F.R.D. 47 (D. Mass. 2009). SeeBad Gatekeeping or Missed Opportunity – Allen v. Martin Surfacing” (Nov. 30, 2012). The purported goal of the session was

“to shine a light on silica as a persistent and dangerous threat to the health of exposed workers worldwide,” focusing on the following issues:

“1) Occupational silica exposures, new and old;

2) silica as a recognized human lung carcinogen and its interaction with other lung carcinogens such as tobacco smoke;

3) the role of silica and silicosis in tuberculosis;

4) issues relevant to medical surveillance of silica-exposed workers as set forth in OSHA’s proposed silica standard;

5) the role of the US Government in protecting the health of silica-exposed workers; and

6) international variability in addressing the threat to worker health posed by silicosis.”

Recently, the Collegium updated its website to provide PDF files of some of the conference presentations:

Carol H. Rice, “Silica – old, new and emerging uses result in worker exposure

Arthur L. Frank, “Silica as a lung carcinogen

Rodney Ehrlich, “Silica in the head of the snake. Silica, gold mining, and tuberculosis in southern Africa

Christine Oliver, “Medical surveillance for silica-related disease: the Collegium responds to OSHA’s proposed rulemaking,”

Gregory R. Wagner, “US Government role in recognizing, reducing, and regulating silica risk: 80 years and counting

Sverre Langard, “Silicosis 300 years after Ramazzini: Eradication in some countries, increased incidence in others

A poster session chaired by Melissa McDiarmid and Carol Rice, revealingly titled “Sustainable Work 2020 – an advocacy platform for Horizon 2020,” followed. Casey Bartrem asked whether “Asbestos-induced lung cancer in Germany: is the compensation practice in accordance with the epidemiological findings?” Odds are that this presentation was a brief for greater compensation. Xaver Baur of Germany, presented on the “Ethics in the applied sciences: The challenge of preventing corporate influence over public health regulation,” but remarkably no one presented on the challenge of preventing the litigation and compensation industry’s influence over public health regulation.

You won’t find any cutting-edge science in the linked slides, but you will find some interesting revelations. Sverre Langard’s presentation makes the dramatic point that silicosis has been declining, despite the hand waving of OSHA Administrator David Michaels, and the histortions of Rosner and Markowitz. Consider Langard’s slide, based upon CDC data:

CDC Siicosis vs Asbestosis Mortality Over Time

And consider the admissions of Arthur Frank, veteran plaintiffs’ expert witness, who acknowledged that:

“until very recently it [silica] was not recognized as a carcinogen.”

True to form, Dr. Frank blamed Selikoff and his other teachers at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he trained:

“At Mount Sinai I did not get trained that silica was a carcinogen”

Well, even a scurry of blind squirrels sometimes find their nuts!


[1][1] Some of the names on the list of Fellows and Emeritus Fellows reads like a “Who’s Who” of testifying expert witnesses, consultants, and advocates for the litigation industry:

Henry A. Anderson, Barry Castleman, David C. Christiani, Carl F. Cranor, Devra Lee Davis , John M. Dement, Arthur Frank, Bernard D. Goldstein, Howard Frumkin, Lennart Hardell, Peter F. Infante, Joseph LaDou, Philip Landrigan, Richard A. Lemen, Barry S. Levy, Roberto G. Lucchini, Steven B. Markowitz, Myron A. Mehlman, Ronald L. Melnick, Donna Mergler, Albert Miller, Franklin E. Mirer, Herbert L. Needleman, L. Christine Oliver, David M. Ozonoff, Carol H. Rice, Kenneth D. Rosenman, Sheldon W. Samuels, Ellen K. Silbergeld, Peter D. Sly, Martyn Thomas Smith, Colin L. Soskolne, Leslie Thomas Stayner, Daniel T. Teitelbaum, Laura Welch

The Unreasonable Success of Asbestos Litigation

July 25th, 2015

In asbestos litigation, the plaintiffs’ bar has apparently invented a perpetual motion machine that feeds on outrage that will never run out. Still, lawyers who have not filled their wallets with legal fees from asbestos cases sometimes attempt to replicate the machine. For the most part, the imitators have failed.

What accounts for the unreasonable success of asbestos litigation? Unlike pharmaceutical litigation, exposure does not require a prescription. Although asbestos insulators and applicators experienced the most exposure, other trades and occupations worked with, or near, asbestos materials. Anecdotal testimony of exposure suffices in almost every case. Add para-occupational exposure, and the sky’s the limit for the class of potential plaintiffs. See Lester Brickman, “Fraud and Abuse in Mesothelioma Litigation,” 88 Tulane L. Rev. 1071 (2014); Peggy Ableman, “The Garlock Decision Should be Required Reading for All Trial Court Judges in Asbestos Cases,” 37 Am. J. Trial Advocacy 479, 488 (2014).

Then there is the range of diseases and disorders attributable to asbestos. Excessive exposure to asbestos minerals cause non-malignant pleural plaques and thickening, as well as lung fibrosis, asbestosis. Some asbestos minerals cause mesothelioma, and despite a differential in potency among some of the minerals (between amosite and crocidolite), the general and specific causation of mesothelioma is often uncontested. Furthermore, lung cancer in the presence of asbestosis may be the result of interaction of asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking. Plaintiffs’ counsel and The Lobby have expanded the list of attributable diseases to include non-pulmonary cancers, only to find some defendants willing to pay money on these claims as well.

In addition to the ease of claiming, or manufacturing, exposure, and the willing cooperation of the occupational medical community in supporting medical causation, asbestos litigation is a lightning rod for moral outrage in the courtroom. Plaintiffs claim that “industry” knew about the hazards of asbestos, including its carcinogenicity, long before warnings appeared. Defending the knowledge claim requires nuanced explanation of shifting standards for establishing causality as epidemiology developed and was applied to putative asbestos-related cancer outcomes, as well as changing views about the latencies of asbestos-related diseases.

Every once in a while, plaintiffs’ and defense counsel[1], the media[2], the academy[3], and the insurance industry[4] ask whether “silica” is the next asbestos. Although the prospects have been, and remain, dim, plaintiffs’ counsel continue to try to build their litigation palace on sand, with predictably poor results. See Kimberley A. Strassel, “He Fought the Tort Bar — and Won,” Wall St. J. (May 4, 2009).

There are many serious disanalogies between asbestos and silica litigation. One glaring difference is the inability to summon any outrage over suppressed or nondisclosed knowledge of alleged silica cancer hazards. The silica cancer state of the art, written by those who are lionized in the asbestos litigation – Hueper, Schepers, and Hardy, along with NIOSH and the Surgeon General, all appropriately denied or doubted silica as a cause of lung cancer. See below. When the IARC shifted its views in the 1990s, under the weight of determined advocacy from some partisans in the occupational medicine community, and with the help from some rather biased reviews, industry promptly warned regardless of the lack of scientific support for the IARC’s conclusion. The manufacturing of faux consensus and certainty on silica and lung cancer is an important counter to the incessant media stories about the manufacturing of doubt on topics such as climate change.


[1] Robert D. Chesler, James Stewart, and Geoffrey T. Gibson, “Is Silica the Next Asbestos?” 176 N.J.L.J. 1 (June 28, 2004); Mark S. Raffman, “Where Will Silica Litigation Go?” 1 LJN Silica Legal News 1 (2005); Chris Michael Temple, “A Case for Why Silica Litigation Is Not the ‘Next Asbestos’,” LJN Product Liability Law & Strategy (2004).

[2] Jonathan D. Glater, “Suits on Silica Being Compared To Asbestos Cases,” N.Y. Times (Sept. 6, 2003).

[3] Michelle J. White, “Mass Tort Litigation: Asbestos,” in Jürgen Georg Backhaus, ed., Encyclopedia of Law and Economics 1 (2014); Melissa Shapiro, “Is Silica the Next Asbestos? An Analysis of the Silica Litigation and the Sudden Resurgence of Silica Lawsuit Filings,” 32 Pepperdine L. Rev. 4 (2005).

[4]Is silica the new asbestos?The Actuary (2005).


Historical Statements – – State-of-the-Art

Maxcy, ed., Rosenau Preventive Medicine and Hygiene 1051 (N.Y., 7th ed. 1951) (“Thus, there is no evidence that lung cancer is related in any way to silicosis.”)

May Mayers, “Industrial Cancer of the Lungs,” 4 Compensation Medicine 11, 12 (1952) (“Nevertheless, silicosis is not, apparently associated with, or productive of, lung cancer, whereas asbestosis very probably is.”) (Chief, Medical Unit, Division of Industrial Hygiene and Safety Standards, N.Y. Dep’t of Labor)

Geritt Schepers, “Occupational Chest Diseases,” Chap. 33, p. 455, ¶3, in A. Fleming, et al., eds., Modern Occupational Medicine (Phila. 2d ed. 1960) (“Lung cancer, of course, occurs in silicotics and is on the increase. Thus far, however, statistical studies have failed to reveal a relatively enhanced incidence of pulmonary neoplasia in silicotic subjects.”)

Spencer, Pathology of the Lung (1962) (“Silicosis and lung cancer inhaled silica, unlike asbestos, does not predispose to the development of lung cancer.”)

Wilhelm Hueper, Occupational and Environmental Cancers of the Respiratory System at 2-6 (N.Y. 1966) (“The bulk of the available epidemiologic evidence on the association of silicosis and lung cancer supports the view of a mere coincidental role of silicosis in this combination. *** From the evidence on hand, it appears that a well advanced silicosis does not seem to furnish a favorable soil for the development of cancer of the lung.”) (chief of the National Cancer Institute)

Harriet L. Hardy, “Current Concepts of Occupational Lung Disease of Interest to the Radiologist,” 2 Sem. Roentgenology 225, 231-32 (1967) (“cancer of the lung is not a risk for the silicotic. It is a serious risk following asbestos exposure and for hematite, feldspar, and uranium miners. This means that certain dusts and ionizing radiation alone or perhaps with cigarette smoke act as carcinogens.”)

Raymond Parkes, Occupational Lung Disorders 192 (London 1974) (“Bronchial carcinoma occasionally occurs in silicotic lungs but there is no evidence of a causal relationship between it and silicosis; indeed the incidence of lung cancer in miners with silicosis is significantly lower than in non-silicotic males.”)

Kaye Kilburn, Ruth Lilis, Edwin Holstein, “Silicosis,” in Maxcy-Rosenau, Public Health and Preventive Medicine, 11th ed., at 606 (N.Y. 1980) (“Lung cancer is apparently not a complication of silicosis.”)

Robert Jones, “Silicosis,” Chap. 16, in W. Rom, et al., eds., Environmental and Occupational Medicine 205 (Boston 1983) (“The weight of epidemiologic evidence is against the proposition that silicosis carries an increased risk of respiratory malignancy.”)

W. Keith C. Morgan & Anthony Seaton, eds., Occupational Lung Diseases 266 (1984) (“It is generally believed that silicosis does not predispose to lung cancer. * * * On balance, it seems unlikely that silicosis itself predisposes to lung cancer.”)

1 Anderson’s Pathology at 910b (1985) (“There is no evidence that silica increases the risk of lung cancer, nor does it enhance tobacco induced carcinogenesis.”)

U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The Health Consequences of Smoking – Cancer and Chronic Lung Disease in the Workplace: A Report of the Surgeon General at 348, Chapter 8 “Silica‑Exposed Workers” (1985) (“the evidence does not currently establish whether silica exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer in men.”)

J. Cotes & J. Steel, Work-Related Lung Disorders 156 (Oxford 1987) (“The inhalation of silica dust does not contribute to malignancy.”)

NIOSH Silicosis and Silicate Disease Committee, “Diseases Associated With Exposure to Silica and Non-fibrous Silicate Minerals,” 112 Arch. Path. & Lab. Med. 673, 707 (1988) (“Epidemiologic studies have been conducted in an effort to assess the role of silica exposure in the pathogenesis of lung cancer. *** Thus, the results are inconclusive … .”)

Arthur Frank, “Epidemiology of Lung Cancer, in J. Roth, et al., Thoracic Oncology, Chap. 2, at p. 8 (Table 2-1), 11 (Phila. 1989) (omitting silica from list of lung carcinogens) (“The question of the relationship of coal mining to the development of lung cancer has been frequently considered. Most evidence points to cigarette smoking among coal miners as the major causative factor in the development of lung cancer, and neither a recent84 nor a British study of lung cancer among coal miners has found any relationship to occupational exposure.”)