BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and MERCIER, JJ.
Smith appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment
to CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX"), asserting that
the trial court erred in (1) excluding the testimony of his
expert witness, Dr. Arthur Wardell, and (2) granting summary
judgment to CSX on his claims brought under the Federal
Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C.
§ 51 et seq. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
review a grant of summary judgment de novo, construing the
evidence and all reasonable conclusions and inferences
therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. See
Bisnott v. Norfolk Southern R., 338 Ga.App. 897, 897
(792 S.E.2d 436) (2016). Summary judgment is appropriate when
no genuine issues of material fact remain and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
viewed, the record shows that Smith began working for CSX in
1980 as a laborer in the bridges and buildings department.
Over the course of his 32-year career with CSX, Smith worked
in a variety of different roles, including as a bridge
helper, flagman, assistant foreman, foreman, and track
inspector. Smith's duties with each job varied. For
example, when Smith worked as a flagman - in 1981, at various
times from 1996 to 1999, and again from 2001 until 2006 - he
was responsible for directing rail traffic and overseeing
contract workers but was not engaged in physical labor.
However, when Smith worked as a track inspector, including
from 1999 to 2001 and 2006 to 2012, his duties included
pulling and driving spikes and changing rails and bolts in
addition to inspecting the track. According to Smith, this
work hurt his back, his hands, and his knees. And in separate,
prior lawsuits, he settled claims against CSX related to a
back injury, a right knee injury, and carpel tunnel syndrome
in both hands.
2009, Smith began experiencing pain in his right shoulder and
eventually underwent surgery in July 2010. He returned to
work following surgery but then began experiencing the same
pain in his left shoulder, which led him to leave CSX on
occupational disability in February 2012. In July 2012, Smith
filed this FELA lawsuit, alleging that he was exposed to
"harmful repetitive motion, cumulative trauma, awkward
work postures, vibration, and other harmful conditions"
that caused injury to his shoulders and right
foot. In support of his claims, Smith offered
the testimony of his specific causation expert, Dr. Wardell,
who opined that Smith's occupational duties, including
his use of heavy tools and other types of work, were a
significant factor in causing the acromioclavicular
arthritis in his left and right shoulders, which led
to his occupational disability. Following Dr. Wardell's
deposition, CSX moved to exclude his testimony and for
summary judgment. The trial court granted CSX's motion to
exclude Dr. Wardell after finding that, although Dr. Wardell
is a qualified orthopedist whose testimony is relevant, his
opinions in this case are not reliable. And because Smith was
therefore unable to provide evidence of specific causation,
the trial court granted summary judgment to CSX. This appeal
his first enumeration of error, Smith asserts that the trial
court erred in excluding Dr. Wardell's testimony. At the
outset, we note that "[t]he determination of whether a
witness is qualified to render an opinion as an expert is a
legal determination for the trial court and will not be
disturbed absent a manifest abuse of discretion."
(Citation and punctuation omitted.) HNTB Ga., Inc. v.
Hamilton-King, 287 Ga. 641, 642 (1) (697 S.E.2d 770)
Smith first contends that the trial court erred in excluding
Dr. Wardell's testimony because FELA relaxes the standard
of causation that would otherwise apply in a personal injury
case and consequently lowers the standard by which trial
courts assess expert witness testimony. We disagree.
"The Federal Employers' Liability Act is a federal
statute that gives a railroad employee the right to sue his
employer in state or federal court for injury or death
resulting in whole or in part from the railroad company's
negligence." Norfolk Southern R. Co. v.
Zeagler, 293 Ga. 582, 586 (2) (748 S.E.2d 846) (2013).
To bring a FELA claim, the plaintiff must prove each of the
traditional common law elements of negligence: duty, breach,
foreseeability, and causation. See id. Under FELA, however,
the causation standard is relaxed, and "the test of a
jury case is simply whether the proofs justify with reason
the conclusion that employer negligence played any part, even
the slightest, in producing the injury or death for which
damages are sought." (Citation and punctuation omitted.)
Norfolk Southern R. Co. v. Schumpert, 270 Ga.App.
782, 784 (1) (608 S.E.2d 236) (2004). "Nevertheless,
some evidence of causation is required; FELA is not a
no-fault workers' compensation statute."
Id. And, "[i]n all FELA lawsuits, the plaintiff
bears the burden of proving medical causation."
(Citation omitted.) Lee v. CSX Transp., Inc., 233
Ga.App. 30, 31 (503 S.E.2d 309) (1998).
the standard for proving causation is relaxed in a FELA case,
it does not necessarily follow that the standard for
evaluating the admissibility of expert testimony under OCGA
§ 24-7-702 is similarly relaxed. This question appears
to be one of first impression in Georgia, but federal courts
have held that the trial court's "application of
Rule 702 and Daubert . . . is not altered in any way by the
substantive law governing Plaintiff's claims. While this
is a FELA case, to which a relaxed standard of causation
applies, the standard of causation under FELA and the
standards for admission of expert testimony under the Federal
Rules of Evidence are distinct issues and do not affect one
another." (Citation, footnote, and punctuation omitted.)
Bowers v. Norfolk Southern Corp., 537 F.Supp.2d
1343, 1352 (M.D. Ga. 2007), aff'd Bowers v. Norfolk
Southern Corp., 300 Fed.App'x 700 (11th Cir. 2008).
"Thus, the fact that FELA employs a relaxed standard of
causation does not mean that in FELA cases courts must allow
expert testimony that in other contexts would be
inadmissible." Id. ("admission of expert
testimony is controlled - even in FELA cases - by the Federal
Rules of Evidence and Daubert"). See also Claar v.
Burlington Northern R. Co., 29 F.3d 499, 503 (9th Cir.
1994) ("Nor does it mean that in FELA cases courts must
allow expert testimony that in other contexts would be
inadmissible."). We find these cases to be
persuasive and likewise hold that FELA does not alter
the standards for the admission of expert witness testimony
under OCGA § 24-7-702.
now turn to Smith's assertion that the trial court erred
in treating this "routine orthopedic case" as a
"toxic exposure case" in excluding Dr.
Wardell's testimony under OCGA § 24-7-702. Again, we
disagree. OCGA § 24-7-702 provides:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will
assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to
determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert
by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may
testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if:
(1) The testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data; (2)
The testimony is the product of reliable principles and
methods; and (3) The witness has applied the principles and
methods reliably to the facts of the case which have been or
will be admitted into evidence before the trier of fact.
proffering party bears the burden of presenting evidence of
reliability in order to meet the standards of OCGA §
24-7-702 (b). See HNTB Ga., Inc. v. Hamilton-King,
287 Ga. 641, 646 (2) (697 S.E.2d 770) (2010).
Daubert involved scientific experts, the Supreme Court has
since made it clear that the strictures of Rule 702 and
Daubert apply with equal force to non-scientific expert
witnesses." (Citation omitted.) Bowers, 537
F.Supp.2d at 1350. Thus, a medical doctor's opinions
regarding injury causation "clearly fall within Federal
Rule of Evidence 702's scope of 'scientific
knowledge' and must satisfy Daubert." Wilson v.
Taser Intl., Inc., 303 Fed.Appx. 708, 713 (11th Cir.
2008). "Importantly, any step that renders the analysis
unreliable renders the expert's testimony
inadmissible." Bowers, 537 F.Supp.2d at 1350.
The trial court has broad discretion in deciding how to
assess the reliability of expert testimony. See
Hamilton-King, 287 Ga. at 642-43 (1); United
State v. Frazier, 387 F.3d 1244, 1264 (11th Cir. 2004).
This discretion affords the trial court "considerable
leeway . . . in deciding which tests or factors to use to
assess the reliability of an expert's methodology."
Bowers, 537 F.Supp.2d at 1351.
the trial court considered three factors in assessing the
reliability of Dr. Wardell's opinions: whether his
conclusions were based upon sufficient facts or data, whether
he reached those conclusions by use of reliable principles
and methods, and whether he applied those principles and
methods reliably to the facts of the case. See OCGA §
24-7-702 (b). The trial court first found that Dr.
Wardell's use of a "differential
etiology" to opine on the cause of Smith's
injuries is a legally sufficient ...