Smoking Or Radioactive Material? Summary Judgment Reversed Given Factual Disputes On Causation

nuclear_power_plant_landscape-scaledEveryone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. Despite being a widespread disease, there is a lot we still do not know about cancer. One area where a lot is still unknown is causation. For example, lung cancer can be caused by a variety of things, including smoking and exposure to radioactive materials. These multiple potential causes can present challenging issues in lawsuits where an individual developed cancer. An medical expert is one possible way to address potential causation issues. 

Riley Hickman filed lawsuits against multiple oil and gas companies, claiming he had developed lung cancer from exposure to naturally occurring radioactive material while working to clean oilfield pipes. He claimed naturally occurring radioactive material deposits inside oil pipes and have to be cleaned out, which releases radioactive dust. One of the companies Hickman sued, Shell Oil, filed a summary judgment motion. Shell claimed Hickman could not establish his exposure to naturally occurring radioactive material had caused his lung cancer, in part because Hickman had smoked his entire life. Shell argued Hickman had gotten lung cancer from smoking, not from exposure to naturally occurring radioactive material. 

The trial court granted Shell’s summary judgment motion and dismissed Hickman’s claims against Shell. Shell also claimed to have filed a motion to exclude testimony from Hickman’s expert witness, but there was no record of the motion and the court never ruled on it. 

To prevail on a summary judgment motion, the party moving for summary judgment need only point to an absence of factual support for an element of their claim, such as causation. See La. C.C.P. art. 966. When granting Shell’s summary judgment motion, the trial court agreed with Shell’s argument Hickman had not provided expert medical testimony to link his lung cancer to his purported exposure to radioactive material. However, in reviewing the record, the appellate court found Shell was unclear about whether it was challenging the qualifications of Hickmna’s expert. 

Any challenges to an expert’s qualifications or methodology are required to be filed in a pre-trial motion, under La. C.C.P. art. 1425(F). The expert had testified in her opinion, Hickman’s exposure to radioactive material increased his risk of developing lung cancer. Thus, the expert’s qualifications and methodology were essential to determining if the expert could provide an opinion on whether Hickman’s exposure to radioactive materials could have caused or contributed to his lung cancer.  However, Shell had not previously raised an objection to exclude the expert testimony. Further, at the summary judgment stage, the trial court was required to accept the expert testimony as competent evidence and could not analyze the reliability of the evidence. Therefore, the appellate court found there were genuine issues of material fact and reversed the trial court’s grant of the defendants’ summary judgment motion. 

Lawsuits, especially those involving medical issues, often involve complicated issues related to causation. A good lawyer can advise you on what evidence you can provide to support this essential element, including possible testimony from a medical expert and advice you on procedural requirements to use any such testimony. 

Additional Sources: Riley Hickman v. Exxon Mobile Corp. et al.

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Causation: Adequate Medical Evidence Required To Establish Causation Of Alleged Injuries

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