Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wilcox v. Homestake Mining Company

Sep 8: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit,  Case No. 08-2282. In the case brought under the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2210, the Appeals Court must decide whether Plaintiffs alleging they suffered cancer due to exposure to radiation from Defendants' uranium mill have made a sufficient showing of causation under New Mexico law to survive summary judgment. The Appeals Court said, "We first determine the test for causation in this context, then evaluate whether the evidence submitted by Plaintiffs was sufficient to satisfy this test for summary judgment purposes."
    The action was originally brought by several plaintiffs who alleged they or the decedents they represented suffered from a large variety of injuries and diseases as a result of exposure to radioactive and non-radioactive hazardous substances released from Defendants' uranium milling facility in Cibola County, New Mexico. The district court entered a scheduling order requiring each plaintiff to produce expert affidavits making a prima facie showing of harmful exposure and specific causation for each alleged injury, but only three plaintiffs -- the appellants in the current action -- did so. The district court dismissed the other twenty-five plaintiffs from the action with prejudice, and that dismissal is not contested in the current appeal.
    The three Plaintiffs involved in the appeal and their experts opined that Plaintiffs' exposure to radiation from Defendants' operations was a substantial factor contributing to each of them developing cancer. The district court concluded that New Mexico law required a showing of "but-for causation" and that Plaintiffs' expert affidavits failed to meet that showing. The court therefore granted summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiffs' claims. The appeal followed.
    The Appeals Court said, the experts evidence was "simply insufficient to meet Plaintiffs' burden of making a prima facie case that Defendants' operations either (1) were a but-for cause of their cancer, either alone or as a necessary part of a combination of different factors, or (2) would have been such a but-for cause were it not for another sufficient coincident cause." The Appeals Court said additionally, "We also note Plaintiffs have neither alleged nor presented evidence that exposure to Defendants' radiation resulted, more probably than not, in the aggravation of their cancer symptoms. Therefore, to the extent Tafoya alters the but-for test in situations where a defendant's actions aggravate but do not cause an injury, it is not applicable in this case. . . we conclude the district court correctly granted summary judgment to Defendants based on Plaintiffs' failure to make a sufficient showing of but-for causation. We therefore affirm the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendants.
    Access the complete opinion (click here).

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