Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp.

CourtSuperior Court of New Jersey
Writing for the CourtHAMLIN
Citation225 N.J.Super. 485,542 A.2d 975
Decision Date29 April 1988
PartiesPatricia RUBANICK, Executrix of the Estate of Ronald G. Rubanick, and Patricia Rubanick, guardian ad litem for Damien Rubanick and Ronald C. Rubanick, infants, Plaintiffs, v. WITCO CHEMICAL CORP. (for discovery), Witco Chemical Corp., Monsanto Company (Formerly Monsanto Chemical Corp.), ABC Corp. (a fictitious corporation); DEF Corporation (a fictitious corporation); John Doe (identity unknown) and Carl Doe (identity unknown), Defendants. (Civil), Middlesex County

Page 485

225 N.J.Super. 485
542 A.2d 975
Patricia RUBANICK, Executrix of the Estate of Ronald G.
Rubanick, and Patricia Rubanick, guardian ad litem
for Damien Rubanick and Ronald C.
Rubanick, infants, Plaintiffs,
v.
WITCO CHEMICAL CORP. (for discovery), Witco Chemical Corp.,
Monsanto Company (Formerly Monsanto Chemical Corp.), ABC
Corp. (a fictitious corporation); DEF Corporation (a
fictitious corporation); John Doe (identity unknown) and
Carl Doe (identity unknown), Defendants.
Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
(Civil), Middlesex County.
Decided April 29, 1988.

[542 A.2d 976]

Page 488

Edith K. Payne and Michael Dore, Newark, for defendant Monsanto (Stryker, Tams & Dill).

Alfred F. Russo, Woodbridge, for plaintiffs (Russo & Casey).

HAMLIN, J.S.C.

Defendant Monsanto Chemical Company brings this motion in limine to exclude the testimony of plaintiff's sole expert in this toxic tort wrongful death action. Plaintiff's decedent, Ronald Rubanick, was employed by Witco Chemical Company from 1974 to 1979 at its Perth Amboy facility. In 1979 Rubanick was diagnosed as suffering from colon cancer which had reached stage four, having already metastasized to other sites. Despite aggressive treatment at local hospitals and the Sloan-Kettering [542 A.2d 977] Cancer Institute in New York City his condition steadily declined and he expired on July 23, 1980 at age 29. Plaintiff is decedent's widow and brings this action in her own right and as guardian ad litem for her two minor children. The complaint alleges that during Rubanick's employment at Witco he was exposed to a toxic chemical compound, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), manufactured by Monsanto and sold to Witco for use as a heat transfer fluid. It is plaintiff's contention that PCBs are generally a carcinogen in humans and specifically the proximate cause of Rubanick's colon cancer and his resultant death. Plaintiff's only proffered evidence as to causation is Earl Balis, Ph.D., a biochemist cancer researcher.

Defendant seeks to bar the testimony of Dr. Balis on the following theories:

1.) That a biochemist is not a qualified expert pursuant to Evid.R. 56 to testify generally as to human cancer causation.

Page 489

2.) That a biochemist is not a qualified expert pursuant to Evid.R. 56 to testify as to cancer causation in relation to a specific individual.

3.) That Dr. Balis has expressed a novel scientific opinion not generally accepted by the scientific community.

4.) That Dr. Balis' opinion is not supported by an adequate scientific and factual basis.

Those questions require the Court to resolve issues of novel impression as to the degree of expertise necessary to testify as to human cancer causation and to determine the state of medical research regarding carcinogenic effects of PCB exposure. In dealing with these issues an extensive Rule 8 hearing was held wherein the Court received testimony from physicians, a toxicologist, an epidemiologist and a biochemist. Prior depositions, medical records, numerous esoteric laboratory studies and employment records were received in evidence. The testimony covered three days and shall be referenced by volume number, (Vol. I, 9/9/87, Vol. II, 9/10/87, Vol. III, 9/14/87) and page. As the moving party Monsanto had the burden of going forward with sufficient evidence to call into question the admissibility of the proffered testimony. Having so done the burden of proof switched to plaintiff to satisfy the Court by the preponderance of the credible evidence as to his witness' expertise, both generally and specifically, the adequacy of the factual foundation for his opinion and scientific acceptance of the theory that formed the basis of his proffered opinion. Evid.R. 19, 56(2).

In brief Dr. Balis offers the opinion that PCBs are a human carcinogen in general and specifically that Rubanick's exposure to PCBs during his employment at Witco was a proximate cause of his colon cancer and resultant death. Monsanto asserts that there is no general or substantial minority acceptance by the scientific community of human carcinogenicity of PCBs and further that Balis' factual basis as to exposure and contact by Rubanick, given accepted medical standards, is fatally deficient.

Page 490

The motion is critical to the litigation. If Dr. Balis is not permitted to testify as to his opinion plaintiff cannot prevail in this action. The question is ripe for disposition.

In sustaining its prima facie burden, Monsanto produced three witnesses. Dr. Thomas Fahey is a licensed physician and a board certified internist. He is the deputy physician in charge of the Memorial Hospital at Sloan-Kettering and Associate Dean of Medicine at Cornell University Medical College. He has been continuously associated with Sloan-Kettering during his professional career with principal emphasis on clinical care of oncology patients. He has broad and deep experience in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer generally and colon cancer specifically. He has participated in research protocols and publications on patients with endocrine related cancers. He has performed no bench laboratory research and has published nothing on carcinogenesis. Dr. Fahey is familiar with epidemiological principles and their scientific uses but he has published nothing in the field and does not hold himself out to be an expert in the field. Although he has done no prime research in carcinogenesis he is familiar with the scientific literature and is [542 A.2d 978] familiar with identified human carcinogens. He has done no research on the specific issue of the effect of PCB exposure on humans or animals. Dr. Fahey concedes that a biochemist with primary research responsibilities would be more conversant with carcinogenesis literature than a treating clinical physician.

Raymond Harbison, who holds a Ph.D. in toxicology, testified on behalf of Monsanto. Dr. Harbison has been a toxicologist for 17 years and is currently Director of Toxicology at the University of Arkansas in conjunction with the National Center for Toxicological Research. In addition to his toxicological training Dr. Harbison holds a degree in pharmacology and has conducted primary research at both the Tulane Medical School and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He currently is a consultant for the National Institute of Health, and has been a consultant to the United States Environmental Protection

Page 491

Agency on the toxic effects on humans of PCB exposure. He has additionally served as a consultant to many state agencies on toxic substances and their regulation. He has special knowledge and experience with human exposure to PCBs and is fully conversant with human epidemiological studies. Dr. Harbison has been directly involved, over the last 6 years, with a medical and toxicological study of employees of a PCB disposal company in Arkansas which disposes of PCBs from all over the United States. He has studied and evaluated over three hundred subjects annually who handle PCBs on a daily basis. As part of the project the study examines workers in the PCB disposal industry as to: their general medical condition, PCB blood levels, dermatological condition and possible liver abnormalities. Dr. Harbison recognizes as valid scientific authorities: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). He does not recognize the International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) as a valid scientific authority.

Dr. Philip Cole testified as an expert epidemiologist. Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determination of causes of diseases of human beings. Dr. Cole is a licensed medical doctor and holds a Ph.D. from the Harvard School of Public Health where he subsequently served as a full-time professor of epidemiology. He currently is the chairman of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Alabama and chairman of the National Cancer Institute committee on human cancer causes. He previously spent one year in the Department of Epidemiology of the IARC. Dr. Cole is currently a member of the Board of Scientific Counsellors of the Division of Cancer Causes and Research. Dr. Cole is thoroughly familiar with epidemiological principles and conclusions therefrom and is conversant with both the medical and epidemiological literature as to cancer causation and PCB exposure. Dr. Cole does not recognize the IARC as completely authoritative in human cancer causation.

Page 492

Plaintiff offered Dr. Earl Balis as his sole expert witness. Dr. Balis holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Although currently retired, Dr. Balis was engaged for 37 years as a primary cancer researcher at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. During that time he headed up a research group concerned with the investigation of the cause, diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer. He has previously served as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry of the Cornell University Medical College and was an associate editor of the publication General Cancer Research. He has personally authored or participated in the publication of approximately 170 scientific articles of which approximately 15 dealt with carcinogenesis. He has authored nothing specifically on the carcinogenicity of PCBs. Dr. Balis has served on the National Large Bowel Cancer Committee. He has previously served on a research team with Dr. Nancy Keminey, Rubanick's treating physician at Sloan-Kettering. Dr. Keminey was not offered as a witness in this case. Dr. Balis recognizes IARC as authoritative but questions the NIOSH study done by Witco. He is widely conversant with the literature on carcinogenesis. He concedes he does not possess Dr. Cole's qualifications in epidemiology. [542 A.2d 979] He has never testified in court as an expert before this case.

1.) May Dr. Balis offer an opinion on human carcinogenesis generally?

While expert testimony...

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8 practice notes
  • Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • 1 Agosto 1991
    ..."accepted by at least a substantial minority of the applicable scientific community," and granted summary judgment for defendants. See 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 A divided panel of the Appellate Division reversed the trial court. It determined that the conventional "general acceptance......
  • Estate of Behringer v. Medical Center at Princeton
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • 25 Abril 1991
    ...transmission and other relevant matters because of her lack of training as an epidemiologist. See Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp., 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 (Law Div.1988), rev'd 242 N.J.Super. 36, 576 A.2d 4 (App.Div.1990), appeal pending --- N.J. --- (1991). While their conclusion......
  • Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • 1 Junio 1990
    ...in limine hearing conducted on September 9, 10 and 14, 1987, Judge Hamlin, in an opinion reported as Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp., 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 (Law Div.1988), concluded that while Dr. Balis may offer an opinion as to human carcinogenesis generally, he was not qualif......
  • Lentz v. Mason, No. CIV. A. 96-2319.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • 11 Enero 1999
    ...item of damages where the proofs demonstrate [it is necessary], through reliable expert testimony"); Rubanick v. Witco Chem. Corp., 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 (1988) (considering the qualifications of a medical expert to testify outside his area of expertise), rev'd on other grounds, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • 1 Agosto 1991
    ..."accepted by at least a substantial minority of the applicable scientific community," and granted summary judgment for defendants. See 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 A divided panel of the Appellate Division reversed the trial court. It determined that the conventional "general acceptance......
  • Estate of Behringer v. Medical Center at Princeton
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • 25 Abril 1991
    ...transmission and other relevant matters because of her lack of training as an epidemiologist. See Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp., 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 (Law Div.1988), rev'd 242 N.J.Super. 36, 576 A.2d 4 (App.Div.1990), appeal pending --- N.J. --- (1991). While their conclusion......
  • Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • 1 Junio 1990
    ...in limine hearing conducted on September 9, 10 and 14, 1987, Judge Hamlin, in an opinion reported as Rubanick v. Witco Chemical Corp., 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 (Law Div.1988), concluded that while Dr. Balis may offer an opinion as to human carcinogenesis generally, he was not qualif......
  • Lentz v. Mason, No. CIV. A. 96-2319.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • 11 Enero 1999
    ...item of damages where the proofs demonstrate [it is necessary], through reliable expert testimony"); Rubanick v. Witco Chem. Corp., 225 N.J.Super. 485, 542 A.2d 975 (1988) (considering the qualifications of a medical expert to testify outside his area of expertise), rev'd on other grounds, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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