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June 1st, 2017
environmental
EXPERT TESTIMONY ON HEALTH RISKS ADMISSIBLE DESPITE LACK OF CLAIMS FOR PERSONAL INJURY

A Mississippi federal court has held expert testimony regarding health risks posed by exposure to the disposal of a hazardous waste is admissible, even though plaintiffs did not assert claims for personal injuries.  Hollingsworth v. Hercules, Inc., 2:14-cv-KS-MTP (S. D. Miss. Jan. 3, 2017).  The testimony was offered by two experts for the defendant, a company that operated a chemical plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi from the 1920s until 2009.

Plaintiffs owned property near the chemical plant and brought claims for negligence, gross negligence, nuisance and trespass. Plaintiffs alleged the defendant’s improper disposal of hazardous waste products at the plant resulted in lost rental income, decreased property value and emotional distress.

Experts for the company offered opinions regarding the human health risks of exposure to the contaminants and testing results which showed the presence of contaminants below the detection reporting level.  Plaintiffs moved to exclude the experts’ testimony as irrelevant because the landowners did not seek damages for personal injuries. 

The Court disagreed and found the health risk posed by the alleged contaminants was relevant to the value of the properties at issue. The Court held the testimony at the very least created a factual dispute for the jury’s consideration.  

In reaching its conclusion, the Court noted plaintiffs’ own testimony and expert’s appraisals demonstrated the relevance of the human health risks of exposure to the value of plaintiffs’ properties.  The Court acknowledged the parties were not foreclosed from requesting a limiting instruction at trial as to evidence of human health risk posed by the contaminants.

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