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Vermont Supreme Court Upholds Summary Judgment for Defendants on Benzene Exposure Toxic Tort Claims

Kim Burke Posted in Environmental Litigation, Toxic Torts

The Vermont Supreme Court upheld summary judgment in favor of defendants, including Goodyear, in a toxic tort lawsuit in which a 49 year-old plaintiff alleged he contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma from his exposure during years of childhood play on a ballfield allegedly contaminated with benzene.  Blanchard v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 2011 Vt. 85 (August 5, 2011). 

The plaintiff relied on three sources of evidence to claim that there was a genuine issue of material fact: (i) statements by the plaintiff and his boyhood friends that they played ball on the field in question, (ii) the report and deposition of Goodyear’s environmental expert listing benzene as a contaminant that could have been released by Goodyear’s plant to stormwater that passed through a gully at the ballfield, and (iii) the testimony of two experts: an epidemiologist who testified that benzene exposure is associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and a neuro-oncologist who testified that plaintiff’s cancer was not caused by an immunodeficiency disorder. 

The court concluded that all of plaintiff’s evidence “falls well short of what plaintiff would be required to show in order to prevail in a jury trial,” and found that causation was “speculative.”  Plaintiff’s argument that the causation evidence was sufficient to present to a jury was rejected because the epidemiologist’s testimony amounted to “general causation”, and was therefore insufficient, particularly since plaintiff offered no evidence of the extent of benzene exposure, if any. 

The court likewise rejected the oncologist’s testimony that excluded one cause (immunological disorder) as evidence that the claimed benzene exposure caused the cancer.