ATLANTA (October 27, 2011) — Smith, Gambrell & Russell environmental attorneys Andy Thompson and Steve O’Day achieved a major victory in a large toxic tort lawsuit last week. On October 21st, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a federal district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of SGR’s client Alcoa and other defendants. The ruling will have lasting impact on lawsuits claiming illness from exposure to beryllium and other toxic chemicals.
First filed in 2004, the case was narrowed to twelve plaintiffs, after the defense team defeated plaintiffs’ efforts at class action certification. Plaintiffs alleged that they had developed beryllium sensitization and/or chronic beryllium disease as a result of alleged exposures during the manufacture of military aircraft. They claimed their illnesses were caused by the defendants’ alleged breach of duty to warn them of the dangers of beryllium usage.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the “learned intermediary” doctrine because the plaintiffs’ employer was a sophisticated user of beryllium and had sufficient knowledge of the dangers of beryllium use. The Court also affirmed the district court’s exclusion of the plaintiffs’ causation expert because the expert’s opinions were scientifically unreliable under the prevailing standard for admissibility of expert testimony.