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Martin v. Shell Oil Co.

ELR Citation: 32 ELR 20440
Nos. No. 3-99-CV-1428 (JCH), 198 F.R.D. 580/(D. Conn., 01/10/2002)

The court holds that expert testimony offered by two Connecticut individuals suing an oil company for damages caused by methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) contamination is admissible and that all but two of the individuals' causes of action against the company survive summary judgment. Two experts testified on behalf of the individuals. The court first holds that the testimony of the first expert as to the movement of the MTBE contamination from the company's gas station to the individuals' property is relevant and reliable. Although the expert based his testimony on a study of a neighboring river valley, accepted scientific principles justify the relevance of the expert's study given the  similarity of the geological setting of the contamination site and the study. Further, although the expert did not test his explanation of the movement of the contamination, it remains reliable. An expert opinion must be testable but it need not be tested, and the expert's explanation that the cost of testing prohibited the test is not flawed. The court next holds that the testimony of the indiviuals' second expert concerning his belief that MTBE contamination of the individuals' property caused their health symptoms is relevant and reliable. Moreover, the second expert has sufficient expertise and knowledge to qualify him to give an opinion on causation and medical monitoring. The court additionally holds that, based on the record before the court, it cannot be said that the individuals have no evidence of damage to their property, and material issues of fact remain as to whether medical monitoring would be an appropriate remedy. The court further holds that the individuals' negligence, negligence per se, private nuisance, and trespass claims also survive summary judgment. The court goes on to hold, however, that the individuals cannot bring a strict liability claim because undeground storage of gasoline is not an ultrahazardous activity. Likewise, the individuals cannot bring a gross negligence claim because the state does not recognize such a cause of action. The court finally holds that the individuals failed to convince the court that the burden of proving causation in this case should not be shifted to the company and that the testimony of the company's experts should be subject to a stricter standard of review.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (29 pp., ELR Order No. L-436).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Anthony Dipentima
Guion, Stevens & Rybak
93 West St., Litchfield CT 06749
(860) 567-0821

Counsel for Defendant
Richard Wallace
Wallace, King, Marraro & Branson
1050 Thomas Jefferson St., Washington DC 20007
(202) 204-1000