Appellate Division Affirms: Expert Evidence Required to Prove Contaminants Caused Injury

In Anna Olson, et al. v. Sunoco, Inc., Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No.: A-4769-12T1 (App. Div. Jan. 26, 2015), the Appellate Division affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of Sunoco.  Plaintiffs purchased property in Westville, Gloucester County, New Jersey in 1999.  Their property is located near the Eagle Point Refinery owned by Sunoco, Inc.  In 2009, Plaintiffs were made aware that an environmental cleanup was occurring at the refinery and that contaminants had migrated beyond the Refinery’s property boundary. 

Unaware of the contamination until 2009, Plaintiff Anna Olson was experiencing skin rashes, psoriasis, eye irritations, stomach problems, and lightheadedness beginning in 2000.  However, Plaintiff did not engage an expert to testify to the causation of her injuries. 

The Court held that, in toxic tort actions such as this case, a plaintiff must prove medical causation.  In other words, a plaintiff must prove that exposure to the contaminant was a substantial factor in causing or exacerbating the injury.  The Court held that, generally, expert proof is required to establish a nexus between the exposure and the injury. 

Plaintiff Anna Olson did provide a letter from a physician noting that from March 2000 to January 2012, Ms. Olson and her family were treated for a variety of health issues, but the doctor did not provide an expert opinion stating that these ailments were the result of specific contaminants.  Ultimately, the Court held that “[w]ithout linking these ailments to identifiable contaminants, [the doctor’s letter] is not sufficient to overcome summary judgment.”  Therefore, the Appellate Division upheld the Trial Court’s dismissal of the case.   

The Toxic Injury Lawyers at Lieberman & Blecher, P.C. regularly assist clients with concerns regarding the need for expert evidence in environmental injury cases. Our attorneys are highly experienced in scrutinizing expert documentation to ensure that it meets the standards required to pursue a claim, and we ensure that our clients are aware of the medical and documentation needs for a successful claim.

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