Mass Torts: State of the Art

Mass Torts: State of the Art

Category Archives: Causality

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Robreno Tries to Tackle Sorites Paradox; Ford Fumbles Risk Factors

Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Reason, Risk, The Law
Judge Robreno has done a heroic job of resolving the “elephantine mass” of asbestos litigation stuck in the federal system (MDL 875) but his attempt to resolve an ancient Greek paradox came up short. In a memorandum opinion (Mortimer v. A.O. Smith Corp., et al.) addressing Ford’s motions to exclude Plaintiff’s experts intent on opining that his renal cell cancer was caused… Continue Reading

Revenge of the Shoe Salesmen

Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Reason
By 1990 Paul E. Meehl had had enough. He’d had enough of lazy scientists polluting the literature with studies purporting to confirm fashionable theories that in fact couldn’t even be tested; enough of cynical scientists exploiting the tendency of low power statistical significance tests to produce false positive results just so they could churn out more of the same; and enough of too many PhD… Continue Reading

Dreadful Sentence of the Week

Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Reason
“… 62 of the plaintiffs … had statistically significantly higher rates of genitourinary and reproductive illness and procedures compared to the rest of the county.” That’s from Whitlock v. Pepsi Americas, a hexavalent chromium case, and it was part of the reasoning that went into the court’s decision to grant plaintiff leave to supplement her… Continue Reading

“It is indicative of a lack of understanding of the scientific method among many scientists”

Posted in Causality, Molecular Biology, Reason
For several years now we’ve been trying to spread the word to the legal community that a great many people who hold themselves out as scientists, including more than a few who’ve published papers in the most prestigious peer reviewed journals around, aren’t really doing science. They’re not coming up with hypotheses and testing them. Instead of avoiding that pitfall which humans are… Continue Reading

About The Virus That Makes You Dumb

Posted in Causality, Microbiology, Reason
A colleague asked me yesterday what I thought about a story she’d seen in the media regarding a virus often found in algae. Supposedly it can impair human cognition. I told her that as a matter of fact I’d been working up a brief blog post on the topic because of its implications for mass tort litigation, gave her… Continue Reading

Yet Another Opinion in Which a Court Mistakes Hypothesis for Theory

Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Reason, The Law
While some may imagine that scientific hypotheses are the product of highly educated people with brilliant minds drawing straightforward inferences from compelling evidence the fact remains that all scientific hypotheses are nothing more than guesses; and as every middle schooler taught the scientific method knows, even the best pedigreed hypotheses are usually false. On the… Continue Reading


Posted in Causality, Microbiology, Risk, Toxicology
Jumping the Snark: Erionite in Mexican Town Tied to High Rate of Mesothelioma (or, how "Sir, have you ever been to Turkey?" became too cute by half) Plaintiffs’ Experts Were Really, Really Wrong About the Mechanism Underlying MDS and AML Chromium VI is Weakly Associated With Stomach Cancer To Reduce the Spread of Pathogens in Common… Continue Reading

A Memorandum Opinion And The Methods That Aren’t There At All

Posted in Causality, Reason, The Law
You’d think that courts would be leery about dressing their Daubert gatekeeping opinions in the "differential etiology method". After all, as you can see for yourself by running the query on PubMed, the U.S. National Library of Medicine / National Institute of Health’s massive database of scientific literature, apparently nobody has ever published a scientific paper containing the phrase "differential etiology… Continue Reading

Bostic Oral Argument: Plaintiffs Play A Clever Tune

Posted in Causality, The Law
Notwithstanding the briefs of Georgia-Pacific and numerous amici, appellant Bostic, appellee Georgia-Pacific and (seemingly) most of the justices appeared by the end of oral argument on Monday to reach at least partial agreement on the big issue. Specifically, that somehow or another it ought not be the law when multiple defendants create conditions each independently… Continue Reading

Lawyers Have Learned To Distort Pharmacovigilance Signals

Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, The Law
The goal of pharmacovigilance is to detect the subtle signal of a causal effect otherwise buried amongst the noise of all the maladies which by coincidence alone happened to manifest after a drug was taken. The FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) gathers reports of these adverse events and presents them in a database that can be analyzed for just such signals.… Continue Reading

Painting By Numbers

Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Reason
It’s hard to argue with the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Joann Schultz v. Akzo Nobel Paints, LLC; a benzene/AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) wrongful death claim filed by the wife of a painter. The opinion frames the question before the court as follows: Is the fact that plaintiff’s… Continue Reading

A Duty To Mine Big Data

Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, The Law
We had another jury trial and thus were offline for a few weeks but it didn’t take long to dig up something I hope you’ll find of interest. I ran across it in a recent opinion by the district court in the In Re Fosamax Product Liability Litigation. What is it? It’s a duty to actively mine… Continue Reading


Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology
Getting the causation arrow pointed in the right direction: obesity leads to vitamin D deficiency and not the other way ’round. Happy TRAIL to Pharma – homeruns are still possible with small molecule drugs. Whew, no cases of rabies, plague, polio or hemorrhagic fever this week. Then again, only 1 person died in all of Miami… Continue Reading


Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Microbiology, Risk
The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer (covering 1979 – 2009) is out. The good news is that overall death rates for some of the biggest killers continues to decline. The bad news is that deaths from cancers caused by infectious agents like HPV and hepatitis-C are up; doubling in some cases.… Continue Reading

Be Careful What You Wish For When You Wish For A Standardless Standard Like Lohrmann

Posted in Causality, Reason, The Law
As promised we’re weighing in on Holcomb v. Georgia Pacific,  et  al – the most recent effort by a court, this time Nevada’s supreme court, to paint a fig leaf over the judicial embarrassment that is modern asbestos litigation. To recap, by 1989 (twenty years after Clarence Borel filed the complaint that launched the mother of all mass… Continue Reading


Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Microbiology
New research reveals what Toxoplasma gondi (a parasite that completes its lifecycle in cats) does once it gets into the brain. Given mounting evidence that T. gondi alters the behavior of its human hosts, understanding how it takes over may lead to eradication therapies. Higher Breast Cancer Rates for Women Working in the Farming, Food Canning… Continue Reading

Causation is Hard: Statins and Diabetes Edition

Posted in Causality
So what to make of a chart of associations like this? Some studies, and studies of studies, show that the risk of diabetes is decreased in those on statins. Most however show a small increase in risk and as a result overall risk is slightly elevated. It looks like causation. But is it? Across the studies… Continue Reading

Causation is Hard: Multiverse Edition Part II

Posted in Causality
Gold in "Certainty Into Probability" proposes to do away with the requirement of "but for" causation in toxic tort litigation and to replace it with an apportionment of liability among all potentially causative factors, whether tortious or not, so long as each factor passes the Milward v. Acuity holistic-weight-of-the-evidence-via-subjective-judgment-performed-by-an-adequately-credentialed-person "general causation" test. The impetus for the proposed change is despair. Despairing… Continue Reading


Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Microbiology
We’re a lot more diverse than you think. Low socioeconomic status (SES) kills. In part because it has a profoundly negative effect on cancer survival. It’s time to put the welding/Parkinson disease claims to rest. Meanwhile, thanks to a misreading of Matrixx v. Siracusano, some courts believe that because the FDA might delay approval of a drug… Continue Reading


Posted in Causality, Epidemiology, Microbiology, Reason
Why would an antidepressant also fight off a fungus that infects the CNS? Healthy skin requires healthy germs. Your skin is home to a trillion bacteria. Don’t die; be happy. Mycobacterium and Crohn’s disease, the case. Grab your pick, shovel and bolt again – creepers, our ancient enemies. Texas courts don’t have jurisdiction over the British… Continue Reading

Gatekeepers Will Be In Demand For The Foreseeable Future

Posted in Causality
Why? Read Jurors And Scientific Causation: What Don’t They Know, And What Can Be Done About it?. Try as they might, researchers aren’t having much luck finding ways to teach lay jurors (or judges, or lawyers) how to draw sound causal judgments from scientific studies. Our causal heuristics have failed to keep up as we’ve moved beyond discerning why ripened apples invariably fall (rather… Continue Reading