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Defendants Pursue Genetic Mutation Theory in Asbestos Cases

A seemingly novel defense appears to be gaining steam as yet another defense team is pursuing the “genetic mutation” theory in a case of asbestos injury.
The burgeoning hypothesis is that some people are genetically pre-disposed to developing asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. The gene, “BAP1” is being used to explain why some people exposed to asbestos go on to suffer little consequences, while others develop chronic or terminal diseases. Some of the arguments predicated on the genetic theory suppose mesothelioma and related conditions are caused solely by this gene.

Plaintiffs, meanwhile, continue to argue the disease is caused by asbestos exposure (the only known, proven cause of mesothelioma and asbestosis), and that companies knew the material was dangerous and exposed workers and the public to it anyway without warning.

In the most recent case, defendant Georgia Pacific has asked the St. Louis Circuit Court for an order that would compel a blood examination from the plaintiff, which would be used for purposes of genetic testing. Georgia Pacific was later dismissed from the action via a settlement agreement, and the order to compel the test was not ruled upon.

The request, however, reveals that we could see this becoming a defense in mesothelioma litigation, as opposed to a seeming shot-in-the-dark. But the extent to which it continues to be raised as an issue will depend on its success, which is why so many are watching these cases carefully.

Defendants in mesothelioma cases often find their defense angles are limited. It’s clear these companies produced products that were unreasonably dangerous, and not only did they fail to warn people about that fact, they often actively concealed risks while failing to take protective measures that would shield the health and well-being of those who used the products.

Asbestos was widely used for much of the 20th century and was contained in products ranging from motor vehicle brakes to ceiling tiles to building insulation.

Despite research on the genetic angle being scarce, when the lead defense lawyer for Georgia Pacific requested the blood samples of the plaintiff in the St. Louis case, she stated the gene is “known to cause” mesothelioma.

This stems from the opinion of just two researchers – one with the University of Hawaii and another with the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia – who allege the gene mutation predisposes some people to cancers, which includes mesothelioma. While these two have posited the gene mutation alone can cause cancer, without asbestos exposure, there has been no evidence of this or significant testing to prove it. Medical experts largely reject this theory in the absence of more proof.

The plaintiffs in the St. Louis case stated the request by Georgia Pacific was, at best, misleading. To assert that the mutation of the gene is “known” to cause diseases attributed at this point solely to asbestos isn’t scientifically or medically supported.

Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling (888) 554-2030. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.


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