How is causation established for environmental lawsuits?

Causation cannot be established by mere guess or conjecture; it must be established by evidence of probative value.  As a result, causation is difficult to prove (especially in environmental lawsuits) and can oftentimes support a motion for summary judgment.  In order to fully understand this defense, it is best to review how courts have analyzed this issue in the past.

For instance, in Cerny v. Marathon Oil Corp., several homeowners asserted claims against an oilfield operator alleging that toxic emissions from its operations near their homes caused their health problems.  Defendants argued that the plaintiffs’ claims fell outside a lay person’s general knowledge and experience and therefore required expert testimony which meets the requirements under Merrell Dow Pharms v. Havner. 

The plaintiffs disputed that the Havner standard applied, because they disclaimed recovery for any “personal injury damages” and instead only sought recovery for nuisance “symptoms typical of discomfort rather than disease.”  The San Antonio Court disagreed and held that the Havner standard still applied. 

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