Chemical Plant Fights Obese Woman’s Illness Claims

ATLANTA (CN) — Attorneys for an obese woman who claims that air pollution from a Florida fertilizer plant made her sick asked the 11th Circuit on Thursday to vacate a ruling that barred their expert from testifying.

Rhonda Williams lives in Tampa, 3 miles away from a Mosaic Fertilizer plant. In her July 2014 lawsuit, Williams claimed that toxic pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, contaminated her home and caused her to develop pulmonary disease and other injuries.

She sought damages for negligence, strict liability and failure to warn.

Williams lost, in a June 2016 ruling in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, which barred from testifying her only causation expert, toxicologist Dr. Franklin Mink,

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ruled that Mink failed to demonstrate any scientific methodology that determined a causal link between Mosaic Fertilizer’s actions and Williams’ illness.

On Thursday, Williams’ attorney told an 11th Circuit panel that the trial court abused its discretion and applied an incorrect legal standard.

“The judge didn’t consider [that] you don’t have to have precise numbers for these kinds of things,” Williams’ attorney Thomas Burns argued. Burns cited Mink’s failure to determine what dose of the pollutants would be required to cause Williams’ illnesses.

The trial judge said Mink “didn’t calculate the exact doses, but you’d have to test humans to find that, which would be unethical,” Burns said. “Scientists can draw a causal inference. Whether that’s a correct opinion is up to the jury.”

But attorneys for Mosaic Fertilizer told the panel that Mink failed to present a legitimate methodology and failed to consider alternative causes for Williams’ illnesses.

“Ms. Williams had asthma since she was a child, her parents smoked around her constantly, she has severe allergies such that we were asked not to even wear aftershave to her deposition, and she is morbidly obese. Lots of things could have caused her to have difficulty breathing,” David Weinstein argued for Mosaic Fertilizer. “[Mink] failed to eliminate all of the potential causes.”

In rebuttal, Burns said that Mink’s methodology was “reasonable” and asked the panel to vacate the ruling.

The panel did not indicate when it will rule decision.

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