U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court Refuses to Revive Nuclear Power Cancer Cases

A federal appeals court dealt another blow to Pennsylvanians suing over a nuclear facility they claimed caused cancer.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said they could not prove the facility damaged them. In affirming a dismissal of consolidated cases against the successor to Nuclear Material and Equipment Corp., the court may have ended a battle for more than 70 plaintiffs.

"Plaintiffs are missing critical elements, and therefore their claims fail," Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote in the unanimous decision, McMunn v. Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, Inc.

Price-Anderson Act

The plaintiffs sued in federal district court alleging they developed cancer after being exposed to radiation emissions from the nuclear facility in Apollo, Pennsylvania. Almost all of them lived near the plant for many years, dating back to the 1960's.

Virtually every plaintiff was diagnosed with some form of cancer between 2007 and 2011 -- some died. According to the court, they suffered from more than a dozen different types of the disease, including lung cancer, breast cancer and others.

The plaintiffs alleged their afflictions came from radiation emissions through the stacks, vents and fans on the facility's roof. However, a trial judge dismissed their complaints on summary judgment because they could not prove basic negligence required under the Price-Anderson Act.

Impossible to Determine

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued they provided sufficient evidence of large-scale releases of radiation from the facility. Third Circuit, however, said causation was a major issue.

"Even with state-of-the-art data, it is impossible to determine with certainty that radiation is the cause of a given incidence of cancer for three reasons," the court said. "First, numerous factors other than radiation may cause cancer."

The appeals panel also noted that some plaintiffs had multiple diagnoses over the years, including patients harmed by chronic smoking. Moreover, the court said there was no evidence distinguishing "cancers caused by radiation or by other factors."

Ultimately, the court affirmed the trial court's finding that the plaintiffs "failed to show that they were exposed to enough radiation to cause his or her cancer."

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