Dayton Law Review

The Scientific Basis of Causality in Toxic Tort Cases


Belief: A psychological state regarding the truth or falsity of a proposition.

Bias: In science, an undisclosed or unappreciated factor that was, in fact, partly or wholly responsible for a particular observation.

Biological event: An event, motion, or other property uniquely associated with living organisms. Self-initiated motion, wound repair, and food consumption are biological events. The motion of the moon around the earth, a chemical reaction, and the propagation of light are non-biological events.

Biological sciences: The sciences that deal with living objects.

Blue-ribbon committee: A group of scientists appointed by a public or private organization for the purpose of making scientific and value judgments regarding a matter of interest to the organization.

Cause: Generally, a relationship between a factor and an observation such that the observation would not have occurred when and how it did, but for the factor; a factor that influenced an event. In science: With respect to non-living objects, a necessary and sufficient condition for an observation. With respect to living objects, a sufficient but not necessary condition to modify an observation.>

Contract: A method for funding scientific research desired by the contracting party providing the funds, intended principally to provide knowledge pertinent to the aims of the funding party.

Controlled observation: Method applied to the study of living objects for the purpose of determining causal relations.

Dependent variable: In a scientific study, the response parameter chosen for measurement. For example, in a study of the ability of asbestos particles to penetrate cell membranes, the amount of asbestos inside the cells is the dependent variable.

Disease: A pathological physiological state not attributable to trauma.

Dosimetry: The study of the amount (dose) of a toxic agent actually received by a subject under a specified set of conditions.

Effect: Correlative of cause; also called motion, event or observation. Biological effect, an effect manifested only by a living organism (e.g., disease); distinguished from physical effect, which can be manifested by any object (e.g., heat). Acute effect, an effect that occurs immediately after its cause (e.g., death from a fatal gunshot); distinguished from chronic effect in which the cause, effect, or both are manifested over time (lung cancer from cigarettes).

Epidemiological study: A scientific study usually involving human beings in which the investigator does not exert control over the application of the toxic agent to the study subjects. The three major types are case-control study, proportional mortality (or morbidity) study, and the standardized mortality (or morbidity) study.

Expert: A person having knowledge not ordinarily possessed by the layman.

Expert witness: An expert in an area of interest to the court who is thereby permitted to offer opinions and make causal inferences to the trier of fact.

Fact witness: One who testifies on the basis of sensory-derived knowledge pertinent to case-specific issues.

Force: A necedssary and sufficient condition for motion. An entity postulated to exist for the purpose of rationalizing causal relationships. The four kinds recognized are the strong, weak, gravitational, and electromagnetic forces.

Grant: A method for funding scientific research in which the aims and goals of the research are chosen by the scientist, and in which the granting organization’s chief interest is in contributing to knolwedge within the particular branch of science.

Knowledge: Justified belief in the truth of a statement. The three sources of knowledge are the senses, the intellect, and authority. Sensory knowledge: knowledge obtained directly and immediately through the senses. Intellectual knowledge: knowledge derived from the application of experience and understanding to sensory knowledge. Authoritative knowledge: a statement whose justification is provided by the source of the statement. Scientific knowledge: knowledge obtained from the application of the methods of science. Anecdotal knowledge: knowledge other than scientific, that is, knowledge based on observations, judgment, or authority, but not on a specific and reproducible set of experiences or observations.

Negative study: A study in which the agent studied and the effect searched for could not be related to a statistical degree of certainty greater than ninety-five percent.

Opinion: A statement colorably sounding as intellectual knowledge which the speaker acceptsa s true (that is, sufficiently justified) but for which the speaker’s rationale for truth is either not accepted or has not yet been accepted by the listener.

Partisan research: A scientific study designed or controlled by a party having a proprietary interest in the outcome of the study.

Peer review: A procedure involving an editor of a scientific journal, an author of a scientific article, and a reviewer of the article chosen in secret by the editor, performed for the purpose of controlling the quality of specific additions to the corpus of scientific knowledge.

Positive study: A study in which the agent studied and the effect searched for were found to be associated to a statistical degree of certainty greater than ninety-five percent.

Principal deductive opinion: An assertion by an expert that plaintiff’s disease was caused by exposrue to the toxic agent (“x caused y”).

Principal inductive opinion: An assertion by an expert that the toxic agent to which plaintiff was exposed can cause the type of disease manifested by plaintiff (“X can cause Y”).

Reason: A factor accepted as a justification for a subsequent observation.

Reliability (of expert testimony): The minimal extent to which proffered testimony must be true as a matter of law before it can be evaluated by the trier of fact.

Risk factor: A factor which, if present, renders a particular outcome more likely than would otherwise have been the case.

Science: A human activity that consists of making valid observations, inferring reasons for the observations, and offering mechanistic answers.

Systematic variation: The scientific method used to study nonliving objects for the purpose of inferring causal relationships.

Toxic tort: A cause of action that arises when the mechanism of the harm suffered by plaintiff is alleged to involve a long-term interaction between plaintiff’s body and a physical or chemical agent produced by the defendant.

Truth (of a statement): Corresponding to, representing, or characterizing reality.

Trustworthiness (of a statement): Meriting acceptance as likely being truthful.

Validity (of expert testimony): Testimony made persuant to the applicable scientific and legal principles.

Validity (of a scientific study): A scientific study in which the inference of a cause-and-effect relationship was made pursuant to the applicable scientific and statistical principles normally applicable to scientific studies.

“x”: A designation for a specific cause. One of the specific circumstances associated with an effect that is regarded as the cause of the effect in the totality of the circumstances. In a scientific study, “x” is the independent variable. In a toxic tort, “x” is the toxic exposure experienced by plaintiff.

“X”: A designation for a general cause. For example, in “X can cause Y,” X can be asbestos, chemical dyes, or electromagnetic fields.

“y”: A designation for a specific effect. In a scientific study, “y” is the dependent variable. In a toxic tort, “y” is plaintiff’s disease.

“Y”: A designation for a general effect. For example, in “X can cause Y”, Y can be pain, death, or cancer.


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