Mass Torts: State of the Art

Mass Torts: State of the Art

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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

Stacking Cans in Michigan

Posted in Reason, The Law
Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause middle ear infections. Middle ear infections can cause erysipelas (a bacterial skin infection). Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause erysipelas. Erysipelas can cause cellulitis. Cellulitis can cause bacteremia. Bacteremia can cause septicemia. Septicemia can cause pneumonia. That’s an quite a stack of cans when you’re trying to prove that a death from pneumonia was probably caused by a… Continue Reading

Robust Misinterpretation of Confidence Intervals by Courts

Posted in Reason, The Law
“How are courts doing when it comes to interpreting the statistical data that goes into their decision-making?” That was a question posed by someone in the audience at a presentation I gave recently. I was discussing, among other things related to the perils of litigating statistical inferences, the recent paper “Robust Misinterpretation of Confidence Intervals.”… Continue Reading

Texas: No More No No-Duty

Posted in Reason, The Law
Until last Friday an owner whose premises harbored some known or knowable danger could not avail itself of the argument that it had no duty either to warn invitees or to render its premises safe even when the danger was “open and obvious” and even when the invitee was aware it. The “no-duty” rule that had once meant “no money” for plaintiffs who slipped and fell in the very… Continue Reading

So Much For Science

Posted in Reason
Wired ran an article last week titled “Science Says American Pharoah Won’t Win The Triple Crown“. It consisted of a detailed review of the science of horse racing; the energy demands, the metabolic hurdles a horse must overcome to refuel for the next race, the microscopic injuries produced by any great exertion, the time needed for bone to remodel to meet… 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

Dubious About Bringing Scientific Peer Review to Scientific Evidence

Posted in Reason, The Law
Bloomberg’s Toxics Law Reporter recently published a paper by Professor David L. Faigman titled “Bringing Scientific Peer Review to Scientific Evidence” that sets out an idea worth thinking about. Specifically, that the quality of scientific testimony presented to juries would be improved (and presumably the likelihood that justice is done would be increased) if the job of screening proposed testimony was shifted to, or at… Continue Reading


Posted in Microbiology, Reason, Risk, The Law
The Supreme Court of Connecticut adopts the duty triggering rule “if an outcome made possible by the act is foreseeable then any outcome made possible by the act is foreseeable” – and in the process proves that it doesn’t understand physics (the case involved a child dropping an 18 lb piece of cinder block from the third floor of a… Continue Reading

A Seat Belt Case Illustrates Why Risk Beats Causation as an Explanation of Tort Liability

Posted in Reason, Risk, The Law
The Texas Supreme Court has finally done away with the prohibition on seat-belt evidence in auto accident cases. See Nabors Well Services, LTD. et al v. Romero, et al. I recall thinking in law school just how odd it was that a defendant couldn’t introduce evidence of plaintiff’s failure to wear his seat belt. After all, the… 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

A Plaintiff Win and a Very Good Daubert Opinion from the U.S. Ninth Court of Appeals

Posted in Reason
… we have a universally recognized Supreme Court, to which all disputes are taken eventually, and from whose verdict there is no appeal. I refer, of course, to direct experimental observation of the facts.  E. T. Jaynes, physicist, in Foundations of  Probability Theory, Statistical Inference, and Statistical Theories of Science (1976) Recently we’ve been grousing about Daubert-invoking opinions that… Continue Reading

Three Straw Men on a Witch Hunt

Posted in Reason
He who is accused of sorcery should never be acquitted, unless the malice of the prosecutor be clearer than the sun; for it is so difficult to bring full proof of this secret crime, that out of a million witches not one would be convicted if the usual course were followed! – 17th century French… Continue Reading

The Human Cost of Bad Science

Posted in Reason
Because of the aggressiveness of a disease, its stage when detected and/or the requirement that patients enrolled in clinical trials not simultaneously pursue multiple treatments "patients with progressive terminal illness may have just one shot at an unproven but promising treatment." Too often their last desperate shots are wasted on treatments that had no hope of… 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


Posted in Reason
Back in the day expert witnesses attacked with their credentials and parried with their jargon. Nowadays they’re "wonkish". The result is typically something like this recent affidavit of Dr. Arthur Frank – a beyond encyclopedic recitation of the scientific literature and the conclusions he believes obviously flow from it. Yet Dr. Frank is a piker when it comes to wonky reports. Plaintiffs’… Continue Reading

Five Beagles Refused To Die

Posted in Reason
Thinking about Harris v. CSX Transportation, Inc. and trying to understand how a court could come to believe that an educated guess that has never been tested, or one that has been repeatedly tested and serially refuted, could nevertheless constitute scientific knowledge I thought I’d reread Milward v. Acuity Specialty Products: Advances in General Causation Testimony… Continue Reading

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Doesn’t Get The Scientific Method

Posted in Reason, The Law
Milward v. Acuity has spawned another troubling anti-science opinion: Harris v. CSX Transportation, Inc. Whereas Milward held that credentialed wise men should be allowed to testify that an effect that has never been observed (indeed one that could not be detected by any analytical method known to man) actually exists, Harris holds that such seers may further testify that an effect that would be… 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

Squeak Squeak

Posted in Molecular Biology, Reason, Toxicology
In the run up to the trial of a case in which we’re arguing that the B6C3F1 mouse ain’t a man and 1,3 butadiene ain’t a human carcinogen just because it causes cancer in the B6C3F1 mouse, out comes "Mice Fall Short as Test Subjects for Humans’ Deadly Ills" by Gina Kolata of the NYTimes. And it’s a bombshell. Kolata reports… Continue Reading