Ohio court affirms Hodgkin's lymphoma-stricken man's award in asbestos case

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Oct 14, 2014

CLEVELAND (Legal Newsline) – An Ohio appeals court has affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff who alleged he developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of asbestos exposure.

Judge Kenneth A. Rocco delivered the Sept. 25 opinion in Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Eighth Appellate District affirming the lower court’s judgment. Judges Frank D. Celebrezze, Jr., and Mary Eileen Kilbane concurred.

Defendant Ford Motor Co. appealed a jury verdict in favor of claimant Brett Walker. The jury found that he developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma and asbestosis as a result of asbestos exposure while working for Ford from 1973 to 1997.

Ford argued that Walker’s illness could not be caused by asbestos exposure and claims the trial court abused its discretion by admitting unreliable, unscientific expert testimony in support of Walker’s claim.

Ford further argued that the court erred when it denied the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict based on Walker’s alleged failure to present admissible evidence of proximate cause.

Prior to the trial, the Industrial Commission of Ohio denied Walker’s claim for Workers’ Compensation benefit. As a result, he appealed to the district court.

Rocco held that because Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not one of the occupational diseases specified in Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation system, Walker had the burden of showing his condition qualified as an occupational disease.

Expert testimony is required to establish both general causation and specific causation, which must both be established in toxic exposure claims.

“Because Walker alleges that his Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused by asbestos exposure at Ford, to prevail on his claim of entitlement to participate in the workers’ compensation system based on the condition of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Walker was required to present expert medical evidence establishing both that Hodgkin’s lymphoma can be caused by exposure to asbestos and his Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused by his asbestos exposure at Ford,” Rocco wrote.

Ford took particular issue with Dr. Carlos Bedrossian’s testimony on causation.

Bedrossian testified that he had been involved in a dozen cases of asbestos-related lymphomas, including two cases regarding Hodgkin’s lymphoma specifically.

“Although it is unclear to this court, based on the record before us, how it was determined, in each of those cases, that the disease at issue was caused by asbestos exposure, Ford did not object to or otherwise challenge this testimony,” Rocco wrote.

Bedrossian also testified on the classifications of the different types of lymphomas and the specific biological mechanisms by which he contended asbestos could cause lymphoma.

Again, Ford failed to rebut or challenge the testimony.

“Indeed, Ford’s expert, Dr. Harley, acknowledged that asbestos particles ‘can migrate around inside the body to some extent and cause disease in places other than the lungs’ and that asbestos fibers do travel to the lymphatic system and can get into the lymph nodes,” Rocco held.

The appeals court agreed that portions of Bedrossian’s testimony relied on controversial studies but held that the opinions are not outside the “certain degree of latitude that may be given to experts in the application of scientific studies to new sets of facts.”

Furthermore, just because no asbestos bodies were found in the slides of Walker’s tumor does not mean Bedrossian’s opinions were unreliable.

“Dr. Bedrossian testified that after asbestos fibers cause damage to cells that begin the cancer process, they migrate elsewhere in the body,” Rocco stated. “He explained that he would not expect to find asbestos fibers in the tumor itself because it is a new growth.”

As for Ford’s allegation that the evidence was insufficient to make the connection between asbestos exposure and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the appeals court disagreed.

Rocco explained that Walker presented sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict that he was entitled to participate in the Ohio Workers’ Compensation system for his disease.

“Because reasonable minds could have reached more than one conclusion based on the evidence submitted, Ford was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and the trial court properly denied Ford’s motion for directed verdict,” he wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Heather Isringhausen Gvillo at asbestos@legalnewsline.com

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