Rebecca Lancaster v. BNSF Railway Company, No. 21-3366 (8th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
A former BNSF Railway Company employee died from lung cancer in 2018. Plaintiff, on behalf of her late husband’s estate, brought this wrongful death action against BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), alleging that her husband’s cancer was caused by his exposure to toxins at work. The district court excluded Plaintiff’s expert witness testimony and granted summary judgment to BNSF.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that there is no direct evidence that Plaintiff’s husband was exposed to asbestos or diesel combustion fumes. Even if a jury could infer that Plaintiff’s husband had been exposed, there is no evidence of the level of exposure. The court explained that while a quantifiable amount of exposure is not required to find causation between toxic exposure and injury, there must be, at a minimum, “evidence from which the factfinder can conclude that the plaintiff was exposed to levels of that agent that are known to cause the kind of harm that the plaintiff claims to have suffered,” There is no such evidence here. Moreover, the court explained that the district court did not abuse its considerable discretion by determining that the expert’s opinion lacked a sufficient foundation and that, in turn, his methodology for proving causation was unreliable.
Court Description: [Kobes, Author, with Shepherd and Stras, Circuit Judges] Civil case - Federal Employers' Liability Act. Plaintiff alleged her husband, a BNSF employee, contracted lung cancer from exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust, and silica dust at work. The district court granted BNSF's motion to exclude testimony from a medical expert that the alleged exposure caused the employee's cancer; without the evidence, plaintiff could not prove causation, and the district court granted BNSF's motion for summary judgment. The district court did not abuse its considerable discretion by determining that the doctor's opinion lacked a sufficient foundation and that, in turn, his methodology for proving causation was unreliable.