Eighth District Court of Appeals Holds Trial Court Erred by Not Permitting Daubert Hearing in Asbestos Case

Posted on May 6th, 2016 by sutteroconnell

The Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed a decision of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to deny Honeywell International Inc. (“Bendix”) a Daubert hearing in an asbestos case.

Decedent Glenn Watkins was employed at Babcock & Wilcox in Barberton, Ohio from 1957 until 1958. He testified that he was exposed to asbestos-containing rolls of insulation and pipe covering. Between 1985 and 2001, Mr. Watkins was employed as a store manager at Auto Shack and Auto Zone stores. Mr. Watkins claimed that during his time at Auto Shack and AutoZone, he was exposed to asbestos from various manufacturers of brakes, clutches, and gaskets, including Bendix brakes.

The Watkins case was tried to a plaintiff verdict on December 15, 2014, and trial defendant Bendix was adjudicated 40% liable of a total compensatory award of $815,000, or $326,000.  Bendix filed an appeal, arguing that the trial court erred by permitting Watkins’ causation experts to testify, over objection, that Decedent’s mesothelioma was caused by exposure to Bendix brake dust.  Bendix contended that the experts’ testimony did not comply with either Evidence Rule 702 or the Daubert standard for the admissibility of expert evidence.

Plaintiff’s experts, Dr. James Strauchen, and Dr. Arthur Frank, asserted that asbestos was the only proven cause of mesothelioma and that every exposure to asbestos increases an individual’s risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. The trial court did not hold a Daubert hearing, and did not independently determine whether Drs. Strauchen and Frank’s causation theories were supported by sufficient data or based on reliable principles and methods.  The Eighth District inquired: “Were there any biases in the selection of studied subjects?  Were there any systematic errors in measuring data that resulted in differential accuracy of information?  Who funded the studies?  The trial court must consider biases when interpreting an epidemiological study.”  Ultimately, the Eighth District held that the trial court did not properly execute its duty as gatekeeper because, without a hearing, the court could not independently examine and evaluate the reliability of Drs. Strauchen’s and Frank’s expert testimony.

The judgment was reversed.  Click here for the full text of the opinion.