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Snizavich v. Rohm and Haas Co.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 6, 2013

ANNE SNIZAVICH, INDIVIDUALLY AND ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JOSEPH SNIZAVICH Appellant
v.
ROHM AND HAAS COMPANY Appellee

Appeal from the Order Entered April 17, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): 2832 April Term, 2009

BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J. [**] , LAZARUS, J., and COLVILLE, J.[*]

OPINION

LAZARUS, J.

Anne Snizavich ("Wife"), individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Joseph Snizavich, Deceased, appeals from the order granting summary judgment in favor of Rohm and Haas Company. After careful review, we affirm the order of the trial court.

Joseph Snizavich ("Decedent") worked as a pipefitter for Welsch Company for approximately thirteen years, spending much of that time working as a contractor at Rohm and Haas' Spring House Facility. Welsch Company completed many contracting jobs at Spring House, including work on air conditioning, refrigeration, and assembly/disassembly of the environmental chambers. Decedent was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2005, and died from his illness on September 19, 2008.

Wife filed suit against Rohm and Haas in April 2009, asserting causes of action under the Wrongful Death and Survival Acts, [1] in which she alleged that Decedent's brain cancer was caused by exposure to chemicals while working at Spring House, and that Rohm and Haas was liable.

Rohm and Haas filed a motion for summary judgment in August 2011, arguing that Wife had failed to submit expert testimony needed to prove causation. In response, Wife submitted the expert report of Thomas H. Milby, M.D. ("Milby Report"), after which Rohm and Haas' motion was denied on November 8, 2011. Rohm and Haas then filed a Frye[2] motion seeking to preclude Dr. Milby's testimony because it did not comply with the requirements for admission of expert testimony. Wife filed a response to Rohm and Haas' Frye motion, which included an affidavit from Dr. Milby explaining his methodology.

The trial court heard argument on the Frye motion on April 17, 2012, and, after granting Rohm and Haas' Frye motion, granted summary judgment for Rohm and Haas because Dr. Milby was Wife's only expert on the issue of causation. Wife filed a timely notice of appeal on April 20, 2012, followed by a court-ordered Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement, after which the trial court issued a Rule 1925(a) opinion explaining the basis for its ruling.

In its Rule 1925(a) opinion, the trial court explained:

it was not necessary to conduct a full Frye analysis on the report issued by Milby, as it failed both of the basic requirements of showing a coherent scientific or technical methodology to which any type of analysis could be applied as to its acceptance in the scientific community or showing that its conclusions would in any way assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or a fact in issue.

Trial Court Opinion, 11/19/12, at 4.

The trial court was especially troubled by Dr. Milby's reliance on a report from the University of Minnesota ("Minnesota Report"), finding that there was a statistically higher occurrence of brain cancer amongst individuals who worked at Spring House, where thousands of chemicals had been used. Despite that finding, however, the Minnesota Report was inconclusive as to both the cause of the brain cancer found in the Spring House workers and the relationship between the chemicals and increased incidence of brain cancer. Nevertheless, the court stated, "Milby somehow comes to the exact opposite conclusion . . . Milby, however, does not state any scientific methodology that he used nor does he call into question the [study's] methodology that might make its findings incorrect, rather he simply states his own opposite conclusions without any further support." Id. at 6.

Additionally, the trial court found that Dr. Milby's conclusion as to causation was not actually based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, despite Dr. Milby's use of "the magic words" to the contrary. Id. at 7. The trial court found that there was nothing in the Milby Report to provide any evidence for his conclusion, which the court described as "nothing more than a logical post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy." Id. at 7.

Finally, the court found that the Milby Report "did not meet the basic requirements of Pa.R.E. 702" because no "scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge beyond that possessed by a layperson" was used to formulate the opinion. Id. at 8. "Ultimately, the Milby Report seems to be little more than an unscientific lay opinion given by someone who happens to be a medical doctor." Id. As such, Dr. Milby's testimony would not assist the trier of fact, because it "contained no evidence, ...


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