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Haskins v. 3M Company

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

July 23, 2017

JOHN E. HASKINS, and MARY L. HASKINS, Plaintiffs,
v.
3M Company, et al., Defendants. JAMES WILLSON CHESHER and CHERYL ANN CHESHER, Plaintiffs,
v.
3M Company, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendant Air and Liquid Systems Corporation's (“Air and Liquid Systems”) motion to exclude, Case No. 2:15-cv-02086-DCN, ECF No. 176, and defendant Crane Co.'s (“Crane, ” together with Air and Liquid Systems, “defendants”) motion in limine, Case No. 2:15-cv-2123-DCN, ECF No. 197.[1]Although the two motions arise in separate actions, they present very similar issues and can therefore be decided together. For the reasons stated below, the court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Haskins

         From 1953 to 1956, John E. Haskins (“Haskins”) served in the U.S. Navy as a fireman aboard the USS Coney. Haskins ECF No. 176-2, Haskins Report 1. Haskins was diagnosed with a form of cancer known as mesothelioma in November of 2014. Id. Haskins and his wife, Mary L. Haskins (together with Haskins, the “Haskins Plaintiffs”), allege that Haskins' mesothelioma was caused by his cumulative exposure to asbestos during his time on board the USS Coney, including his work with and around asbestos-containing products manufactured or otherwise distributed by Air and Liquid Systems. Haskins ECF No. 1-1, Haskins Compl. ¶¶ 4-7. On April 17, 2015, the Haskins Plaintiffs filed an action in the Court of Common Pleas in Charleston County, bringing claims against Air and Liquid Systems and other suppliers of the asbestos-containing products Haskins allegedly encountered during his Naval career. Id. ¶¶ 3-5. The action was later removed to this court.

         B. Chesher

         From 1968 to 1989, James Willson Chesher (“Chesher”) served as a machinist mate and a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. Chesher ECF No. 1-1, Chesher Compl. ¶ 32. For a significant portion of his career, Chesher conducted or oversaw maintenance and repair work on various types of asbestos-containing equipment, including valves and de-aerating feed tanks. Chesher and his wife, Cheryl Ann Chesher (together with Chesher, the “Chesher Plaintiffs”), [2] allege that Chesher developed mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to this equipment. Id. ¶¶ 33-35. On April 15, 2015, the Chesher Plaintiffs filed an action in the Court of Common Pleas in Charleston County, bringing claims against Crane and other suppliers of the asbestos-containing products Chesher allegedly encountered throughout his Naval career. Id. ¶ 30. This action was later removed to this court.

         C. Bedrossian's Opinions

         Both sets of plaintiffs offer the opinions of Carlos Bedrossian, MD (“Bedrossian”) to provide evidence of specific causation. Bedrossian's opinions in each case are essentially identical. In each expert report, Bedrossian outlines certain activities from Haskins and Chesher's respective work histories which exposed them to asbestos fibers. Haskins Report 1-2; Chesher ECF No. 181-1, Chesher Report 1-2. Bedrossian later explains that “all [asbestos] fiber types . . . cause lung cancer and [mesothelioma], and as such should be treated with the same level of concern due to their well-established carcinogenicity.” Haskins Report 4; Chesher Report 4. Bedrossian then asserts that “[m]ost cases of [mesothelioma] occur in occupational groups subjected to ‘downstream exposure' in trades that include working in . . . the shipbuilding industries, ” and discusses the increased asebestos exposure associated with work aboard U.S. Navy ships. Haskins Report 4-5; Chesher Report 5-6.

         When discussing the causal link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, Bedrossian asserts that:

[Malignant mesothelioma] is invariably the result of repeated, routine and direct handling of [asbestos containing material] . . . or of being present in close vicinity of others doing so over a period of time which may vary according to the individual susceptibility of the exposed person. The carcinogenic effect of asbestos is cumulative, regardless of the source of the exposure, which can be occupational, non-occupational or environmental in nature. Total cumulative dose has been consistently found to be the best indicator of risk . . . .

         Haskins Report 5; Chesher Report 5-6. Both reports offer very similar conclusions. In Haskins's case, Bedrossian concludes that the “total and cumulative exposure[3] to asbestos, from any and all products, containing any and all fiber types, was a significant contributing factor to [Haskin's] risk of premature death from complications of his asbestos related cancer.” Haskins Report 6. In Chesher's case, Bedrossian concludes that “each of the defendants' products which contained asbestos added to the total cumulative dose of Chesher's asbestos exposure, and therefore, constituted the contributing factor to the development of his [mesothelioma], and his risk of premature death from complications from this lethal form of occupational malignancy.” Chesher Report 8.

         On March 4, 2016, Crane filed a motion in limine to preclude Bedrossian from offering specific-causation testimony in the Chesher case. Chesher ECF No. 181. The Chesher Plaintiffs filed a response on April 4, 2016, Chesher ECF No. 224, and Crane filed a reply on April 14, 2016. Chesher ECF No. 229. In the Haskins case, Air and Liquid Systems filed a motion to exclude Bedrossian's specific causation opinions on November 4, 2016.[4] Haskins ECF No. 176. On November 9, 2016, the Haskins Plaintiffs filed a response, Haskins ECF No. 179, and Air and Liquid Systems filed a reply on November 21, 2016. Haskins ECF No. 185. The court held an evidentiary hearing on February 28, 2017, where it took testimony from Bedrossian.[5] The motions are now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARDS

         A. Rule 403

         Federal Rule of Evidence 403 empowers the court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403. Courts are afforded broad discretion in deciding evidentiary matters, particularly under Rule 403, which “requires an ‘on-the-spot balancing of probative value and prejudice, potentially to exclude as unduly prejudicial some evidence that already has been found to be factually relevant.'” Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 384 (2008) (quoting 1 S. Childress & M. Davis, Federal Standards of Review § 4.02, p. 4-16 (3d ed. 1999)).

         B. Rule 702 and Daubert

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence ...

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