The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a trial court’s decision to exclude expert testimony that exposure to gasoline caused acute myeloid leukemia (“AML”) in a former gas station attendant and mechanic, highlighting the importance of the distinction between a product and its component parts in exposure cases. See Burst v. Shell Oil Co., 2016 WL 2989261 (5th Cir. May 23, 2016). (Our prior coverage of the trial court ruling is available here.)

Plaintiff alleged that her late husband was exposed to benzene in gasoline during his work at various service stations from 1958 through 1971, and that such exposure caused his AML. Plaintiff relied on expert reports and testimony from a medical doctor and an epidemiologist. The trial court excluded the general causation testimony of both witnesses. It found the medical doctor’s methodology unreliable because he did not demonstrate why studies specific to benzene exposure could reliably support his conclusion that gasoline exposure can cause AML. It found the epidemiologist’s methodology unreliable because he also relied on benzene-exposure studies and otherwise relied on gasoline-exposure studies that provided an inadequate basis for his opinion.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Court found the trial court’s opinion was “thorough and well-reasoned,” with specific and detailed findings as to the deficiencies in the experts’ testimony. Id. at 1. Therefore, the Court held, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the experts’ opinions.

This blog was prepared with the assistance of Brooklyn N. Hildebrandt.