New Ohio Supreme Court Opinion Clarifies Expert Proof Required for Toxic Exposure Claims

October 5, 2007

The Ohio Supreme Court issued an important decision this week regarding expert testimony in toxic substance exposure claims. 

In Terry v. Caputo, six of the seven Ohio Supreme Court justices followed an emerging trend in the federal courts and ruled that a person claiming personal injury from exposure to "mold or other toxic substance" must establish through medical expert testimony "that the toxin is capable of causing the medical condition or ailment (general causation), and that the toxic substance in fact caused the claimant's condition (specific causation)."

The claimants in the Terry case introduced a medical expert who established that the mold found in their work space was capable of causing their injuries.  However, the Supreme Court ruled that the medical expert's testimony was "unreliable" on the issue of whether the claimants' illnesses were actually caused by the exposure.  Specifically, because the medical expert did not properly assess other possible causes of the illnesses and offer sufficient support for his causation opinion, including support from the medical literature, the Supreme Court ruled that his testimony was unreliable and must be excluded.  Without this necessary medical expert testimony, the Supreme Court ruled that the claimants had failed to produce sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and granted summary judgment to the defendant.

Justice Pfeifer was the lone dissenting Justice.  Justice Pfeifer wrote that the testimony of a nonmedical expert--an industrial hygienist--provided sufficient evidence in support of the claimants' case to proceed to trial.

This case sets a high standard for proof required to support plaintiffs’ claims of personal injury in toxic substance exposure claims.  The case also clarifies and strengthens arguments for clear and specific expert proof in toxic tort claims.

If you have any questions about Terryand its impact on toxic substance exposure claims, contact Mike Yarbrough, Monica McPeek, or any of the attorneys in our Toxic Tort and Chemical Exposure Litigation Practice Group.

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