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Heller v. Shaw Indus., Inc.

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20532
Nos. 97-1735, 167 F.3d 146/(3d Cir., 02/03/1999)

The court holds that a district court properly excluded homeowners' expert testimony in a case alleging that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by a manufacturer's carpeting caused homeowners' respiratory illnesses. The court first holds that the district court erred by requiring the testimony of the homeowners' medical expert to be backed by scientific studies linking the type and level of VOCs to the plaintiffs' illnesses. Given the liberal thrust of the Federal Rules of Evidence, the flexible nature of the Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 23 ELR 20979 (1993), inquiry, and the proper roles of the judge and the jury in evaluating the ultimate credibility of an expert's opinion, a medical expert need not always cite published studies on general causation in order to reliably conclude that a particular object caused a particular illness. The court further holds that the district court also erred in requiring the medical expert to rule out all alternative possible causes. A physician need not conduct every possible testto rule out all possible causes of a patient's illness. The court, however, holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the medical expert's testimony based on a faulty temporal relationship between the carpet's installation and removal and the onset and cessation of the illnesses. The homeowners did not experience symptoms until at least two weeks after the carpeting was installed, and the medical expert testified that a reaction to VOCs would typically occur within 24 hours. Further, the homeowners' symptoms remained after the carpet was removed.

The court next holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony of the homeowners' environmental consultant. The consultant's methodology for extrapolating evidence was based on speculation and estimation that was subject to gross error. Moreover, the consultant's extrapolation theory was patently unreliable, and his tests of the homeowners' home did not indicate levels of VOCs anywhere near the levels found to cause illnesses in humans.

Counsel for Appellants
Joanne Zack
Kohn, Swift & Graf
1101 Market St., Ste. 2400, Philadelphia PA 19107
(215) 238-1700

Counsel for Appellee
LeeAnn Jones
Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy
191 Peachtree St. NE, 16th Fl., Atlanta GA 30303
(404) 572-6600

Before Nygaard and Noonan,* JJ.