Dose of chlorine gas alone not enough to support diagnosis of respiratory illness

July 21, 2015

A man who failed to produce an expert witness to link his respiratory ailment to a mishap at an amusement park will not be able to continue with his negligence claim.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant in Kent Higgins v. Koch Development Corp., 14-2207. The panel found Higgins was unable to show causation and his proposed expert witness was unqualified to offer testimony.

Higgins visited Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari amusement park in southern Indiana with his family in June 2009. During his time there, one of the park’s water rides malfunctioned and when the ride’s filter pump was restarted, a cloud of chlorine gas was released.

After he breathed an unspecified amount of the chemical fumes, Higgins complained of chest tightness, burning eyes, shortness of breath and nausea. He went to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with “mild chemical exposure.”

Later that summer he saw a pulmonologist and more than 14 months after the incident saw a second pulmonologist, Dr. Linda Haacke. She diagnosed Higgins with reactive airways dysfunction syndrome and chronic asthma more than 14 months after the incident at Holiday World.

Higgins filed a negligence complaint against Koch Development Corp., the owner of the amusement park. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division, disqualified Higgins’ expert witness, Dr. Anthony Margherita, because he did not establish a reliable methodology.

Next, Higgins tried to convince the District Court to permit Haacke to serve as his expert. However, the court deemed Haack unqualified and granted summary judgment in favor of Koch.

The 7th Circuit agreed with the District Court that Higgins did not establish that his health problems were caused by inhaling the fumes. The appellate panel dismissed Higgins’ argument that he did not need an expert to show a link between the incident at the amusement part and his aliments.

Judge Joel Flaum, writing for the court, explained, “Unlike dizziness in the wake of extended exposure to paint fumes or a broken leg suffered during a car crash, a typical layperson does not possess the requisite knowledge to draw a causative line, without the assistance of a medical expert, between a brief encounter with chlorine gas and the onset of either RADS (a disease with which, we are confident, most laypeople have no familiarity) or asthma.”



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