Client: E.I. Dupont de Nemours
Case tried by Stephen T. Fannon
The decedent, Gerald L. Hallquist, initially filed an inter vivos claim alleging that his occupational exposure to chemicals, primarily benzene, caused multiple myeloma (a hematological cancer). Following his death, the decedent’s wife filed a dependency claim. Respondent filed Answers to both claims denying compensability and reserving all defenses.
Prior to Mr. Hallquist’s death, his de bene esse deposition was taken and focus was placed on the alleged occupational exposure. The decedent was employed as a laboratory technician for respondent from 1968 to 1998. However, the decedent’s own testimony provided he only worked with the material alleged to have caused his cancer between 1977 and 1982. The decedent testified that respondent had a strict policy in place that required myriad safety procedures while handling materials. Employees who violated said procedures were subject to punishment, including discharge. The decedent’s description of how the materials were tested in his workplace, along with his description of the safety/venting devices in the room, made it impeccably clear that there could not have been any actual exposure, meaning actual physical contact permitting absorption into the body. Furthermore, the decedent never testified as to the number of times or on what type of basis he was allegedly exposed to any chemicals with which he worked, including benzene. Finally, the decedent’s testimony did not proffer any evidence of specific exposure to benzene on which to base causal relationship. The decedent’s wife also testified in this matter, but strictly as to issues of dependency.
Following the decedent’s testimony, petitioner’s attorney’s settlement demand was $200,000.00 under Section 20. Respondent decided to continue with trial.
At trial, the main issue was whether the decedent’s alleged exposure to benzene caused his multiple myeloma. Dr. Shanna Clark, PhD testified on respondent’s behalf and was admitted as an expert in the field of toxicology and cancer causation. Dr. Clark testified that the world literature quite simply has not found a confirmed causal link between benzene exposure and multiple myeloma. Dr. Clark also testified that based upon her review of the decedent’s deposition, she could not conclude that the decedent’s specific multiple myeloma was in any way related to benzene exposure or any other exposure during the decedent’s employment for respondent. Alternatively, petitioner’s expert, Dr. Leon Waller, testified that he is a primary care doctor, with no subspecialty in hematology or oncology. On cross-examination, Dr. Waller admitted he could not recall precisely how long the decedent worked for respondent and admitted that he had no independent personal recollection of the decedent’s deposition as to the specifics of his benzene exposure, including chronicity or intensity.
Dr.Waller provided a net opinion not grounded in any scientific research and unsupported by his own submitted article on causation.
Following testimony, both sides submitted legal briefs. Respondent’s brief emphasized that petitioner failed to meet her burden of proof in proving causal relationship between the decedent’s multiple myeloma and his alleged benzene exposure. The Judge agreed and found the testimony of respondent’s expert to be more credible. The Judge ruled that the world literature supports a lack of a confirmed causal link between the condition and the chemical. The Judge also held that petitioner failed to prove the decedent was sufficiently exposed to benzene, which might have caused his condition. Accordingly, the petitioner’s claim was dismissed in its entirety.