823 So.2d 104 (Fla. 2002), SC01-1127, United States Sugar Corp. v. Henson

Docket NºSC01-1127
Citation823 So.2d 104, 27 Fla. L. Weekly S 551
Party NameUNITED STATES SUGAR CORPORATION, Petitioner, v. G.J. HENSON, Respondent.
Case DateJune 06, 2002
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

Page 104

823 So.2d 104 (Fla. 2002)

27 Fla. L. Weekly S 551

UNITED STATES SUGAR CORPORATION, Petitioner,

v.

G.J. HENSON, Respondent.

No. SC01-1127

Supreme Court of Florida

June 6, 2002

Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Great Public Importance First District - Case No. 1D99-2798

Parker D. Thomson and Carol A. Licko of Thomson, Muraro, Razook & Hart, P.A., Miami, Florida; Eduardo E. Neret of Akerman, Senterfitt & Eidson, P.A., Miami, Florida; and David G. Peltan, U.S. Sugar Corporation, Clewiston, Florida, for Petitioner

Nina A. Sachs of Findler & Findler, P.A., West Palm Beach, Florida; and Randy D. Ellison, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Respondent

H. George Kagan and Elaine L. Thompson of Miller, Kagan, Rodriguez and Silver, P.A., West Palm Beach, Florida, for Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; Florida Citrus Mutual; American Chemistry Council; Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association; Gulf Citrus Growers; and American Crop Protection Association, Amici Curiae

Page 105

Philip D. Parrish, Miami, Florida, for The Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, Amicus Curiae

LEWIS, J.

We have for review a decision of a district court of appeal on the following question, which the district court certified to be of great public importance:

IS A JUDGE OF COMPENSATION CLAIMS REQUIRED TO APPLY THE STANDARDS OF FRYE V. UNITED STATES, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. CIR. 1923), PRIOR TO ADMITTING EXPERT OPINIONS CONCERNING NOVEL SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES OR METHODOLOGIES IN A WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROCEEDING?

United States Sugar Corp. v. Henson, 787 So.2d 3, 11 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.

Facts and Procedural History

Respondent G.J. Henson worked for petitioner U.S. Sugar as an agricultural mechanic for twenty-eight years, ending in 1996 when he became disabled. During his employment, the respondent spent most of his day in the field repairing broken or malfunctioning equipment. Over the course of his employment history with U.S. Sugar, Henson was regularly exposed to pesticides 1 —through physical presence in the fields when aerial application was occurring or had recently occurred, or by actually touching the liquid and solid forms of pesticides during his work on equipment and machinery. According to respondent, he was told that the pesticides would not harm him, and he was not given any particular training on safety precautions for handling the poisonous substances or the equipment upon which the substances came to rest. While U.S. Sugar provided Henson with leather and latex gloves, the leather gloves were unwieldy for his work and the latex gloves were quickly torn by the equipment that the petitioner was required to service and maintain.

While the respondent has suffered from shortness of breath, nausea, gastritis, and muscle weakness since 1977, and from that date until 1996 he had been seen in petitioner's medical clinic regarding these conditions, in February 1996 he began seeing his own physician for weakness, dizzy spells, and shortness of breath. After being referred to a pulmonologist, Henson was diagnosed with a paralyzed phrenic nerve. This nerve condition has resulted in a partial collapse of one of the respondent's lungs, leaving him virtually confined to a wheelchair and dependant upon a ventilator.

Henson asserted before the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) that he is permanently and totally disabled, and that his disability was caused by pesticide exposure in the workplace. As is typical in workers' compensation cases, the respondent's causation evidence was presented to the JCC by introduction of the deposition testimony of four experts. 2 These physicians opined

Page 106

that the cumulative effect of respondent's pesticide exposure was the cause of his phrenetic nerve mononeuropathy. The nontreating experts based their opinions upon well-settled biological conclusions published in scientific literature regarding the effects of insecticides upon humans. Additionally, the treating physicians based their determinations upon both broadly accepted scientific literature and differential diagnosis—an established scientific methodology in which the expert eliminates possible causes of a medical condition to arrive at the conclusion as to the actual debilitating factor.

Despite a "section 90.702 objection" 3 during the expert depositions, and the petitioner's motion in limine, filed one day before the pretrial hearing, which objected to the respondent's expert testimony based upon a lack of general acceptance for his theory of causation under Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923), the JCC accepted the testimony of the respondent's experts into evidence without conducting a separate evidentiary hearing. Following the final hearing, the JCC held that Henson is permanently and totally disabled, and that his disability was caused by pesticide exposure during his employment with U.S. Sugar.

On appeal, the First District affirmed. In its analysis, the court determined that the JCC should have applied the standard enunciated in Frye, to ascertain the admissibility of the expert opinion testimony presented by Henson to explain the causative link between pesticide exposure and his medical condition. See Henson, 787 So.2d at 10-12. As a result of this conclusion, the court engaged in a de novo review of the respondent's experts' opinions, as required by this Court's decision in Brim v. State, 695 So.2d 268 (Fla.1997), finally concluding that their deductions were based upon scientific precepts generally accepted in the scientific community.See id. at 16-21. Therefore, the court concluded that the testimony was properly admitted under Frye, and affirmed the JCC's holding, while also certifying the question related to this determination to us for consideration. This review has followed.

Analysis

It is well-settled in Florida that in the arena of determining the admissibility of novel expert opinion testimony, it is of paramount importance that the court "not permit cases to be resolved on the basis of evidence for which a predicate of reliability has not been established. Reliability is fundamental to issues involved in the admissibility of evidence." Hadden v. State, 690 So.2d 573, 578 (Fla.1997). Focusing upon the prerequisite of scientific dependability, this Court has remained committed to the use of the admissibility standard first detailed in the opinion of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals inFrye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923). See Brim v. State, 695 So.2d 268 (Fla.1997); Murray v. State, 692 So.2d 157 (Fla.1997); Stokes v. State, 548 So.2d 188 (Fla.1989). As stated in the D.C. Circuit's original opinion, the Frye standard requires that "the thing from which the [expert's] deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs." Frye, 293 F. at 1014.

While this case may present the issue of whether the Frye standard must be satisfied in workers' compensation proceedings

Page 107

to this Court for the first time, many legal questions in the workers' compensation area which are relevant to the resolution of the instant case have already been addressed. We recognize that the present question has not received a uniform answer in all jurisdictions. First, the Florida Evidence Code applies in workers' compensation proceedings. See Alford v. G. Pierce Woods Mem'l Hosp., 621 So.2d 1380, 1382 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993); Martin Marietta Corp. v. Roop, 566 So.2d 40, 42 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990); see generally Charles W. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence § 103.3 (2001 ed.). Additionally, as stated in the opinion of the court below, "Frye's application in workers' compensation cases has been implicitly recognized by the Florida Supreme Court." Henson, 787 So.2d at 11.

In Domino's Pizza v. Gibson, 668 So.2d 593 (Fla.1996), we addressed whether section 440.09(3), Florida Statutes (1991), precluded the admission of expert testimony "converting blood alcohol content from a percentage of blood serum to a percentage of whole blood." Id. at 596. The question arose from a workers' compensation claim in which the employer had defended the claim on the basis that the employee was intoxicated at the time of his injury. See id. at 594. Pertinent to the instant case, in determining that section 440.09(3) did not preclude the admission of the employer's proffered expert testimony, this Court stated:

Serum blood alcohol...

To continue reading

Request your trial
33 practice notes
30 cases
  • 855 So.2d 624 (Fla.App. 5 Dist. 2003), 5D02-1624, Marriott International v. Perez-Melendez
    • United States
    • Florida Florida Court of Appeals Fifth District
    • July 25, 2003
    ...Lee v. City of Jacksonville, 793 So.2d 62 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001); U.S. Sugar Corp. v. Henson, 787 So.2d (Fla.1stDCA2000), approved, 823 So.2d 104 (Fla.2002). 1 Moreover,as we have indicated and as Marriott concedes in these proceedings, Perez presented four theories of liability that included ......
  • 871 So.2d 899 (Fla.App. 3 Dist. 2003), 3D01-3583, Jones v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
    • United States
    • Florida Florida Court of Appeals Third District
    • November 12, 2003
    ...is only applicable to cases where an expert's opinion is based upon new and/or novel scientific evidence. See U.S. Sugar Corp. v. Henson, 823 So.2d 104, 109 (Fla.2002); Brim v. State, 695 So.2d 268, 271-72 (Fla.1997). "Therefore, in the vast majority of cases, no Frye inquiry will be r......
  • 897 So.2d 504 (Fla.App. 2 Dist. 2005), 2D03-3826, Gelsthorpe v. Weinstein
    • United States
    • Florida Florida Court of Appeals Second District
    • March 2, 2005
    ...an expert attempts to render an opinion that is based upon new or novel scientific techniques." United States Sugar Corp. v. Henson, 823 So.2d 104, 109 (Fla.2002). "Evidence based on a novel scientific theory is inherently unreliable and inadmissible in a legal proceeding in Flori......
  • Marriott Intl., Inc. v. Perez-Melendez, 092603 FLCA5, 5D02-1624
    • United States
    • September 26, 2003
    ...Lee v. City of Jacksonville, 793 So.2d 62 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001); U.S. Sugar Corp. v. Henson, 787 So.2d 3 (Fla. 1st DCA2000), approved, 823 So.2d 104 (Fla. 2002).1 Moreover, as we have indicated and as Marriott concedes in these proceedings, Perez presented four theories of liability that incl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT