Disease on Trial: the Courts, the Lawsuit and the Public Negotiation over Responsibility for Disease

Professor David Rosner

(Ronald H. Lauterstein Professor of Sociomedical Sciences and Professor of History at Columbia University, and Co-Director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.)

Thursday, 20th of November 2014

Abstract: Over the past twenty years a vast public negotiation has taken place over the causes of, and responsibility for, disease. For the most part this discussion has flown under the radar of doctors, historians and public health professionals. To the extent they have participated, professionals and scholars have been called in as “experts”, as witnesses, to be either listened to, or rejected, by juries and judges. This talk will look at a number of cases over the course of the past two decades that the speaker has participated in. The paper will place his experience in the context of a much longer history of how courts have been used and abused in a contentious struggle over the health of working people and consumers faced by occupational and environmental dangers.

Biography: David Rosner is Ronald H. Lauterstein Professor of Sociomedical Sciences and Professor of History at Columbia University, and Co-Director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. He has published widely on the history and the politics of occupational disease and industrial pollution, including most recently “Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children,” (University of California, 2013).  He has been actively involved in lawsuits seeking to hold the lead industry accountable for past public health harms, and his work has also been part of suits on behalf of asbestos workers and silicosis victims.

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