Genetics and Toxic Torts
Seton Hall Law Review, Vol. 31, p, 949, 2001
34 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2009
Date Written: 2001
Legal analysis of genetics has so far focused primarily on DNA forensic evidence used in criminal cases and potential discriminatory uses of genetic information in employment or insurance contexts. Toxic torts is another area of the law that will both use, and be transformed by, genetic information. Genetic data have many potential applications to toxic torts, such as in proving or disproving causation or establishing the appropriate amount of damages to injured plaintiffs. Genetic variations that affect the individual susceptibility and hence relative risk of exposed persons, or genetic changes which provide objective, quantitative proof of exposure, can greatly reduce much of the uncertainty and arbitrariness that currently hinders toxic tort litigation. Through these and other applications, genetic evidence may be beneficial to either plaintiffs or defendants in particular lawsuits. Genetic information potentially relevant to toxic tort litigation can be divided into two major categories. The first involves inherited genetic variations that affect an individual's susceptibility to disease as a result of toxic exposures. The second consists of genetic changes that occur in individual cells as a result of toxic exposures during the person's lifetime. These mutations are usually not passed on to future generations (unless they occur in reproductive cells), but can provide useful biomarkers of exposure or the early stages of the disease process in the exposed individual. As discussed below, both types of genetic information have multiple potential applications in toxic tort litigation, and indeed are already beginning to be applied in individual cases.
Keywords: Genetics, toxic torts, litigation
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