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Thompson v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co.

809 F.2d 1167 (1987)

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Thompson v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

809 F.2d 1167 (1987)

Facts

Christopher Thompson (plaintiff) worked for Southern Pacific Transportation Company (defendant) for three years before being fired for being intoxicated on the job. Thompson’s job often brought him to the industrial plant of Monsanto (defendant). Thompson sued Southern Pacific and Monsanto, alleging his occupational exposure to hexachlorobenzene at Monsanto’s plant caused his severe case of porphyria. Porphyria may be caused by administration of estrogens, consumption of alcohol, or exposure to certain chemicals. Thompson based his claim against Southern Pacific on the Federal Employers’ Liability Act and his claim against Monsanto on negligence. During discovery, Monsanto publicly announced that dioxin had contaminated its plant. After hexachlorobenzene was not found at the facility, Thompson claimed dioxin caused his porphyria. One of Thompson’s expert witnesses, a chemical engineer, testified that dioxin contaminating the soil can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by an individual working nearby. However, the engineer did not testify about Thompson’s degree of exposure to dioxin because he did not know where Thompson worked at the plant or how long Thompson spent at the plant. A second expert, a toxicologist, testified that dioxin caused Thompson’s porphyria because Thompson worked where dioxin was found and therefore “definitely could have come into contact with it.” However, this toxicologist did not have any knowledge about the amount or duration of Thompson’s exposure. Monsanto’s toxicology expert testified that based on the dioxin measurements at the site, Thompson’s exposure was insufficient to cause porphyria. This expert further testified Thompson’s symptoms were not consistent with dioxin-induced porphyria because in all previous cases of dioxin-induced porphyria, chloracne accompanied the porphyria, yet Thompson never suffered from chloracne. A neurologist, introduced by Thompson, stated that dioxin exposure could cause Thompson’s symptoms, but he did not offer an opinion as to the cause of Thompson’s porphyria. Although the expert did not believe Thompson’s porphyria was caused by alcohol, he testified that he had insufficient information about the concentration of dioxin at the plant or the amount of time Thompson worked there to decide whether Thompson’s exposure caused the porphyria. All five of Thompson’s physicians testified that dioxin did not cause his porphyria. But one of the physicians who worked in the specific areas of liver diseases and porphyria testified that Thompson’s porphyria was related to his alcohol consumption, and he excluded dioxin as causing Thompson’s porphyria because Thompson did not develop chloracne. Two other internal-medicine physicians attributed the porphyria to Thompson’s alcohol consumption. Thompson settled his claim against Southern Pacific. The jury rendered a verdict against Monsanto, which moved for a new trial, judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and a remittitur. The district court judge denied Monsanto’s motions. Monsanto appealed, arguing that the verdict was not supported by sufficient evidence.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Rubin, J.)

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