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Petitioner Failed To Prove Her Husband’s Death From Multiple Myeloma Was Related To Possible Benzene Exposure During A Five Year Period

By on October 13, 2014 in Key Defenses with 0 Comments

Decedent, Gerald Hallquist, worked as a laboratory technician for E.I. Dupont de Nemours (hereinafter Dupont) from 1968 until his retirement in 1998.  Between 1977 and 1982, he worked in the quality control lab with liquid chemicals, including benzene.  He wore safety gloves and a uniform supplied by Dupont.  When working with certain chemicals, the decedent was required to wear additional protective clothing.

Prior to his death on June 7, 2010 at the age of 76, decedent filed a claim petition alleging that his exposure to chemicals led to multiple myeloma.  Decedent gave a deposition de bene esse in which he stated that he tested benzene, but he did not state how often that occurred during the five year period he worked in the quality control lab.  He said that he knew what benzene smelled like, but he never quantified the number of times he smelled this chemical while working in the lab.  There were chemical spills when he worked in the lab, but he was not sure of any specific chemical involved. The decedent testified that he smoked a pack of cigarettes daily between the ages of 19-21.

Mary Hallquist, decedent’s widow, filed a dependency claim petition against Dupont.  Petitioner produced Dr. Leon Waller, a primary care physician with no subspecialty as an expert in internal medicine.  Dr. Waller gave an opinion that the decedent’s multiple myeloma was caused by his “long-term exposure” to benzene during the period of time in the quality control lab.  At first, he said that the exposure would have to occur on a daily basis during this time period for it to have caused the decedent’s illness.  He later testified that the exposure needed to have occurred once or twice a week, three times a week, or at least a few times a week.  Dr. Waller conceded that he did not know how many times the decedent worked with benzene or how many times he smelled it.  However, he said the exposure had to have occurred 100 to 150 times a year for him to draw causal relationship between benzene exposure and multiple myeloma.

On cross examination, Dr. Waller did not recall that petitioner smoked cigarettes for a three year period of time.  When presented with this information, Dr. Waller said that if someone is removed from benzene exposure for 25-30 years, the causal link between the chemical and multiple myeloma cannot be made.  However, this testimony by Dr. Waller also undercut his principal opinion on causation because the alleged exposure at Dupont occurred over 25 years before.

Respondent produced a toxicologist, Dr. Shanna Collie Clark, Ph.D, as its expert.  She said that benzene is a carcinogen, but there is no conclusive research showing that benzene exposure causes multiple myeloma.  It is related to leukemia, however.  Dr. Clark testified that benzene as a causal factor for leukemia would be a ten, but only a one or a two for multiple myeloma.  She further said that there was insufficient epidemiological evidence to draw causation, and there was a notable lack of exposure as well.  Dr. Clark said that the decedent wore gloves and protective clothing.  Samples were placed by another individual under a hood and decedent took “one drop, one c.c. in a syringe into a closed system while he’s testing it.” Dr. Clark also testified that benzene exposure cannot be linked to a multiple myeloma condition that occurs 25 years down the road.

The Judge of Compensation ruled for respondent and dismissed the case.  The Judge noted that the decedent used a closed instrument, a syringe, injecting the test material into a closed machine in a room that had ceiling fans throughout the room, sucking vapors out of the room.  Petitioner appealed to the Appellate Division, which affirmed the dismissal of this case.

The Appellate Division observed that petitioner did not offer proof that the decedent was exposed to benzene 100 to 150 times per year, which even her own expert Dr. Waller said was necessary to draw causation.  Blood tests taken after the alleged exposure from 1977 to 1982 showed no evidence of benzene exposure in the decedent.  The Court noted that the decedent never quantified the amount of his exposure and never testified that benzene was spilled near him.  For these reasons, the Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of this case.

This case can be found at Hallquist v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours, A-6223-12T2 (App. Div. October 10, 2014).  The case was successfully defended by Stephen Fannon, Esq., a shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, along with Ashley Mollenthiel, Esq. on the brief with Mr. Fannon.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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