Pointing to problems with expert witnesses, an appeals court Wednesday rejected an $8 million verdict in a case filed by a man who said he suffered mesothelioma because of exposure to asbestos in cigarette filters and in other products.
A panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and a "directed" verdict in favor of Crane Co., a manufacturing company. It ruled against Richard DeLisle, who won the verdict in the Broward County case in September 2013. DeLisle alleged that he was exposed to asbestos in filters of Kent cigarettes he smoked in the 1950s.
R.J. Reynolds is a successor company to the manufacturer of Kent cigarettes.
DeLisle also alleged exposure in the 1960s in a workplace through sheet gaskets used by Crane Co., a valve and pump manufacturer, the ruling said. DeLisle was a pipe fitter for Crane Co.
The challenge to the verdict and $8 million award, which also affected two other companies, focused heavily on expert witnesses used by DeLisle in the case. In a 21-page ruling, the appeals court said testimony of three of DeLisle's expert witnesses should not have been admitted and that the circuit court "failed to properly exercise its gatekeeping function" in dealing with the experts.
"In sum, the trial court's gatekeeping role is not a passive role," said the ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Martha Warner and joined by Chief Judge Cory Ciklin and Judge Mark Klingensmith. "The court should affirmatively prevent imprecise, untested scientific opinion from being admitted. The expert must explain his or her methodology and how it is applied to the data relevant to the case."
While ordering a new trial for R.J. Reynolds, the court said Crane Co. should receive a directed verdict because testimony from one of the expert witnesses was the only evidence linking the manufacturer to DeLisle's mesothelioma.