U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Decedent James Grant Gooding was employed at various shipyards in Louisiana between 1970 and 1979. On March 4, 2020, he filed suit against a variety of premises defendants, suppliers, and manufacturers, including defendant General Electric Company, alleging their liability in causing him to be exposed to asbestos while working for the American Bureau of Shipping, which he alleged caused his mesothelioma. The decedent passed away on March 22, 2020.
GE filed a motion in liminie to exclude the testimony of the decedent’s experts, Kenneth Garza, an industrial hygienist, and Dr. Brent Staggs, a pathologist. GE argued that the opinions offered by both experts were unreliable because Mr. Garza and Dr. Staggs failed to conduct analysis or calculation as to the decedent’s potential exposure to asbestos fibers from GE turbines, and that the opinions were irrelevant because the experts relied on hypotheticals that were not reflective of the specific facts and circumstances of the decedent’s alleged exposure. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993).
Daubert provides a two-prong test for determining the admissibility of expert testimony. Specifically, the trial judge must determine at the outset whether the expert’s testimony (1) is rooted in scientific knowledge (i.e. reliability), and (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue (i.e. relevance).
Here, the court found that the opinions of Mr. Garza and Dr. Staggs were reliable under Daubert, as GE did not allege that either expert was unqualified based on their knowledge or experience in the field, but rather because they suggested that the decedent could have been exposed to sufficient asbestos from GE turbines to cause long-term harm. However, the decedent’s deposition testimony clearly established that he was around GE turbines (and others performing work on the turbines) on numerous occasions during shipyard inspections. As such, there was a factual record regarding the decedent’s work with GE turbines, and the court rejected GE’s contention that the expert opinions were unreliable, or not based on the facts of the case.
Additionally, the court found that the opinions of Mr. Garza and Dr. Staggs were relevant under Daubert because the “hypotheticals” that GE questioned in its brief actually went to questions of fact raised in the record. Given the existence of factual disputes raised by the decedent’s testimony and other evidence in the record, the court found that there was “no doubt” that the experts’ specialized knowledge was relevant to assisting the trier of fact in determining a question in fact. Moreover, the court noted that weighing expert opinions is the purview of the jury not of the court. For these reasons, GE’s motion was denied in its entirety.
Read the full decision here.