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VICTIMS OF DIESEL EXPOSURES

Harris v. CSX Transportation

Published on August 22nd, 2019 by Andrew L. Hughes

Case Law Series – CSX trainman’s experts allowed to testify that diesel exhaust exposures caused his multiple myeloma

Ronald K. Harris worked for CSX Transportation for 29 years as a trainman, where he was exposed to diesel exhaust from locomotives on a daily basis. Harris was diagnosed with multiple myeloma—a form of cancer that occurs in plasma cells, making it harder for your body to fight of diseases and infections.

Harris sued CSX under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) and the Locomotive Inspection Act, alleging that his multiple myeloma was a result of the exposure to diesel exhaust during his employment. During the trial, Harris died as a result of his cancer, and his wife (Deborah Kay Harris) took over the case.

To prove that his exposure to diesel exhaust was a cause of his cancer, plaintiffs hired three expert witnesses to testify on their behalf – Dr. Peter Infante, an epidemiologist; Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, a toxicologist; and Dr. Brian Durie, a hematologist/oncologist. CSX called two expert witnesses on their side: Dr. Peter Shields and Dr. Laura Green.

CSX moved to exclude testimony from three of plaintiff’s expert witnesses because “their methodology was not reliable.” The trial court granted CSX’s motion and barred plaintiff’s experts.  Since plaintiff could not prove up her case without experts, summary judgment was granted in favor of CSX. Plaintiff appealed. When the plaintiff appealed, the only question for the appellate court was whether the trial court erred in excluding the plaintiff’s expert witnesses.

Dr. Peter Infante, one of the plaintiff’s expert witnesses, is an epidemiologist who is qualified to testify about how diseases are distributed within certain populations of people. Dr. Infante used a variety of studies and relative risk factors to discuss whether there were any ties between diesel exhaust and multiple myeloma and whether diesel exhaust could have caused Harris’ multiple myeloma. Dr. Infante presented multiple studies that showed that diesel exhaust exposures have been linked to multiple myeloma and leukemia, in part due to the benzene found in diesel exhaust. Dr. Infante noted that Harris’ occupational exposure to diesel exhaust was a significant factor in the development of his multiple myeloma.

Plaintiff also presented Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, a toxicologist, as an expert witness. Toxicologists are able to explain the relationship between substance exposure and potential toxicity or diseases within humans. To make his point, Dr. Goldstein first presented information showing that diesel exhaust can cause cancer in general. Then, Dr. Goldstein focused in on the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in diesel exhaust, noting that when ingested, PAHs can travel into bone marrow and cause multiple myeloma. Like Dr. Infante, Dr. Goldstein concluded that Harris’ exposure to diesel exhaust caused his multiple myeloma.

The plaintiffs’ third expert witness was Dr. Brian Durie, a hematologist and oncologist. Dr. Durie, much like the other expert witnesses, concluded that diesel exhaust contains multiple chemicals that are considered carcinogenic to human beings, including benzene and PAHs. He also reviewed animal studies showing that exposure to benzene and PAHs caused the loss of certain chromosomes—the same chromosome losses that Harris experienced after his multiple myeloma diagnosis. As a result, Dr. Durie “strongly support[ed] the fact that…Harris’ workplace exposures…were more probably than not a causative factor in the development of [his] multiple myeloma.”

The Appellate Court found that the plaintiffs’ three experts were able to explain the causal link between diesel exhaust and multiple myeloma, as well as its relevance to Harris’ case. As a result, the Appellate Court judge reversed the decision of the trial court and the case was sent back to the lower court to be retried with the plaintiff’s experts’ testimonies.

Diesel Injury Law is providing this case history to inform visitors about actual case fact patterns and rulings. Unless specifically noted, the cases summarized herein were not handled by attorneys at Diesel Injury Law.  If you believe that you have a case similar to this one, feel free to call 312-877-5588 and speak with an attorney today.

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