Appeals Court Affirms Verdict Linking Asbestos Exposure to Hodgkin's

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The Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals has upheld the admissibility of expert testimony that linked asbestos exposure and Hodgkin's lymphoma. The ruling affirms a jury verdict in favor of a man who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's after having worked at a Ford Motor Company plant in Ohio for over twenty years.

This is pretty big news. Lots of people wonder about asbestos exposure and lymphoma.

The court rejected the contention by lawyers for Ford that causation evidence that was presented on behalf of the plaintiff did not have either medical or scientific support that should have justified the jury's verdict.

The case began when Brett Walker submitted a claim for workers' compensation to the Industrial Commission of Ohio. He alleged that he developed Hodgkin's lymphoma and asbestosis after working for Ford at its Brookpark, Ohio facility from 1973-1997. His claim was denied. Ford Motor Co, also denied that his Hodgkin's could have been caused by asbestos exposure.

One of the experts who testified on Walker's behalf was Dr. Carlos Bedrossian, who told the court that from a causation standpoint, "a lymphoma is a lymphoma," regardless of the differences in subtypes, and further that all types of lymphomas can be caused by exposure to asbestos. Dr. Bedrossian noted a number of studies and articles that supported this, but he ultimately concluded that "as long as asbestos reaches an area [in the body], regardless of where it is, it can cause different types of cancer."

Ford claimed that these assertions were based on "unreliable principles and methods" and that "the vast amount of medical literature … indicate that asbestos exposure does not cause Hodgkin's disease."

But Dr. Bedrossian responded that based on ...

  • - The totality of the literature
  • - His own personal knowledge and experience
  • - The fact that Walker worked in a foundry and was exposed to asbestos, showed signs of asbestosis and had the proper latency period
  • - His assumption that Walker had breathed in a significant amount of asbestos while working at Ford
  • - His exclusion of other possible causes of Hodgkin's (including risk factors like smoking and infection with Epstein-Barr Virus)

... that working for Ford created a "higher risk" of developing lymphoma and that asbestos was the likely causative agent for Walker's disease.

On November 15, 2013, the jury returned its verdict, saying that Walker was entitled to participate in the Ohio Workers' Compensation System for his Hodgkin's lymphoma but not for the asbestosis.

Ford appealed the verdict, and the Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals issued its ruling on September 25, 2014 affirming the jury verdict. Calling it a classic case of "battle of the experts," the appeals court wrote that,

The credibility of the witnesses’ testimony was squarely before the jury, and the jury was free to accept or reject any of this testimony. The jury chose to believe Walker’s expert over Ford’s experts with respect to Walker’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma claim and Ford’s experts over Walker’s expert with respect to his asbestosis claim. Given the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict and the presumption that the jury’s findings of fact are correct, we cannot conclude that the jury’s verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Read the judgment here (opens as PDF): Walker v. Ford Motor Co., 2014-Ohio-4208

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