Plaintiff’s Medical Expert Permitted to Testify After Reversal of Judgment Barring Opinion California Court of Appeals, August 14, 2017

Plaintiffs brought suit against several defendants including TRZ Realty, alleging their decedent developed colon cancer as a result of occupational exposure to asbestos. William Duty worked as a drywall taper for over 40 years.

Before trial, TRZ filed a motion in limine challenging Dr. Revels Cayton’s qualifications to testify as to the causal connection between colorectal cancer and Plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos. After the trial court’s hearing, the court disqualified Dr. Cayton. The plaintiffs conceded they could not prevail at trial without his testimony. The plaintiffs filed an appeal.

On appeal, the court reviewed the standard for expert qualifications. In sum, “the expert must be shown to have special knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education sufficient to qualify him as an expert on the subject to which his testimony relates. Additionally, a deciding factor is whether the expert’s skill and experience would help the jury in ascertaining the truth. The trial court’s disqualification of Dr. Cayton was made in part on his lack of background to “evaluate contradictory opinions” regarding asbestos exposure and colon cancer. Relying on Brown, the court noted that California courts have rightfully moved toward liberal views on qualifying medical experts. Nothing before the trial court reasonably illustrated why “an epidemiologist was required to explain and resolve the conflicting conclusions relevant in the studies.” In fact, the plaintiff’s expert had testified that he had approximately 30 years of experience reviewing epidemiological studies regarding asbestos. As for TRZ, the court noted that it understood Defendant disagreed with Dr. Cayton’s finding. However, that was not a basis for disqualification. And although California courts act as a gatekeeper for improper expert testimony, they act cautiously in doing so according to the court. Having a contradictory opinion is not a basis for exclusion as it is not the job of the court to referee scientific debates.

TRZ argued that judgment should not be overturned because Dr. Cayton’s opinions were not supported and were mere speculation. Specifically, TRZ took the position that Dr. Cayton extrapolated data from studies about cancer that had previously concluded were inadequate to prove causation. However, Dr. Cayton testified during cross exam why he found those studies to be reliable, i.e., he explained the latency period between two groups with respect to colon cancer and concluded that there was an increased occurrence of colon cancer in the 20 year plus group. Also, TRZ criticized Dr. Cayton’s dismissal of colon cancer risk factors utilized by the Surgeon General. On the contrary, Dr. Cayton had testified that he did not agree with TRZ’s counsel’s representation on which rick factors the Surgeon General had identified as risk factors for colon cancer. Although TRZ’s attacks may strike at the weight of Dr. Cayton’s opinion, it did not render his opinions unsupported.

Consequently, judgment was reversed for further proceedings.

Read the full decision here.

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