Risk, Statistical Inference, and the Law of Evidence: The Use of Epidemiological Data in Toxic Tort Cases

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Abstract

Toxic torts are product liability cases dealing with alleged injuries due to chemical or biological hazards such as radiation, thalidomide, or Agent Orange. Toxic tort cases typically rely more heavily than other product liability cases on indirect or statistical proof of injury. There have been numerous theoretical analyses of statistical proof of injury in toxic tort cases. However, there have been only a handful of actual legal decisions regarding the use of such statistical evidence, and most of those decisions have been inconclusive. Recently, a major case from the Fifth Circuit, involving allegations that Benedectin (a morning sickness drug) caused birth defects, was decided entirely on the basis of statistical inference. This paper examines both the conceptual basis of that decision, and also the relationships among statistical inference, scientific evidence, and the rules of product liability in general.

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