DEBUNKING SOME JUDICIAL MYTHS ABOUT EPIDEMIOLOGY AND ITS RELEVANCE TO UK TORT LAW


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Abstract

Due to the limitations of current medical knowledge, claimants in complicated disease litigation often experience difficulties in proving causation. This paper aims to demonstrate that in some instances these difficulties could be overcome through greater use of epidemiological evidence. To encourage greater use of such evidence, it is first of all necessary to address and correct a series of common judicial misconceptions of epidemiology as a scientific discipline. By distinguishing epidemiology from the application of bare statistics, and by explaining that the courts are not automatically bound by an epidemiological result of 51+% to hold that causation has been established, this paper seeks to allay common judicial concerns about epidemiological evidence. It further seeks to demonstrate that the current judicial approach to determining questions of probabilistic causation is fundamentally flawed and that it could be significantly improved through greater use of specialist epidemiological expert witnesses. On the issue of expertise, the paper goes on to highlight the problems associated with the tendency of UK lawyers to turn to clinicians as experts on all matters of biomedical science.

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