Epidemiology in the Courtroom: Anatomy of an Intellectual Embarrassment
In Wells v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., a federal district judge found that a child’s exposure in utero to spermicide caused her serious limb anomalies. In so finding, the judge disregarded the clear consensus of the scientific community based on the great weight of the epidemiological data because that data could not “rule out all possibility that spermicides can cause birth defects.” The majority more or less follow the traditional approach outlined by Bert Black and David E. Lilienfeld. A minority, however, have fashioned unique rules based in large measure on the premise that courts cannot make sense of the scientific issues involved. The science of epidemiology has come to play a prominent role in the resolution of many legal actions, particularly those characterized as toxic torts. In a wide variety of toxic tort actions, courts have found that epidemiologic evidence is critical in resolving the question of causation.