- Jim Ferraro
Navigating the Testimony of the Opposition’s Experts
While Dr. Robert Brent, an expert witness for DuPont in the Castillo-DuPont trial (whom I began to write about in my previous post), often referred to himself as the King of Teratology, he had no board certification in the discipline.
His self-proclaimed title comes from his passionate study of teratology, which was the area in which he spent most of his time working.
Dr. Brent considered himself to be a toxicologist, but only insofar as toxicology pertained to teratology. He also had no certificate or license—nor was he a member of any society or organization—for epidemiology.
Dr. Brent thought himself to be a qualified geneticist and pediatrician, but he was not a qualified obstetrician.
When asked during his deposition about his intentions as an expert witness in the trial, he was clear to state that his purpose would be to rebut the opinions of the geneticists, obstetricians, toxicologists, and epidemiologists we put on the stand as witnesses. In his opinion, he was a qualified expert in at least five specialties.
Given his accomplishments, Dr. Brent was asked to contribute content in the areas of toxicology and the law in a book by Dr. Anthony R. Scialli entitled A Clinical Guide to Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology.
Dr. Brent contributed a chapter called “The Ingredients of a Lawsuit.” I thought this was an interesting title, coming from a guy who got paid to testify in defense of chemical companies.
When I asked him about this experience, he acknowledged having contributed to the publication but had no recollection of ever talking to Dr. Scialli about the book or the process of writing it. Interestingly, in the book Dr. Brent again claimed to be a toxicologist, epidemiologist, geneticist, pediatrician, and teratologist—a slight overstatement of his credentials at the time.
And though Dr. Brent had no recall of his experience, the first person Dr. Scialli mentioned in the acknowledgments of the book was Dr. Brent. It seemed peculiar for an author to so prominently thank someone who had no memory of working on the book. Usually, that type of acknowledgment is reserved for someone who contributed a great deal to the process, not just the writing of a single chapter.
I pointed this out during the trial to establish the concept that Dr. Brent may have suffered from a convenient memory—choosing very carefully what he could and could not recall for the purposes of a trial.
Dr. Brent had testified that most chemicals are known to be teratogens in humans if the dose is high enough.
In his experience, he had never seen lists of human teratogens compiled by different scientists that were identical. He said it was difficult to figure out teratogenic doses in humans because chemicals are more difficult to regulate, and the size of dose needed to be harmful is more challenging to ascertain with chemicals than with drugs.
The determination of what constitutes harmful exposure or a harmful dose of a certain chemical can be made only through animal studies and the reports of investigators in the field from the EPA, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It was his belief that scientists in the field have greater expertise and are in better positions to make informed, intelligent recommendations than the manufacturers of specific chemicals. He went as far as to say that a major multinational company such as DuPont isn’t always in the best position to warn users of its products’ potential dangers because it depends on its personnel.
Of course, when pressed on cross-examination, he also felt it was ludicrous for the EPA to have more knowledge about products than the manufacturers of those products.
In my next post, I continue the story of Dr. Brent’s testimony, and my cross-examination.
You’ll find much more about the Castillo-DuPont trial, as well as information on my background and my thoughts on aspects of the judicial process, in my book, Blindsided.