Mesothelioma lawsuits are often contentious, adversarial proceedings, and a case pitting a Texas man’s family against 3M Company and General Dynamics is no exception. The two companies recently filed a motion to sanction the plaintiffs for having failed to conduct an autopsy after the victim’s death despite the companies’ request prior to his death that one be performed. Though the court agreed in principle that the family’s attorney was at fault, the judge refused to take action that might prejudice the jury against the family.
Lack of Communication Led to Legal Fallout in Mesothelioma Lawsuit
According to court documents, James B. LaFrentz was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma after years of working for General Dynamics. He filed a personal injury lawsuit claiming that the 3M dust mask he wore did not sufficiently protect him from exposure to asbestos. The two companies disagreed on his diagnosis, arguing that as a lifetime smoker his illness was more likely to be lung cancer. When Mr. LaFrentz’ attorney informed the companies’ attorneys that his death was imminent, they requested that if he died an autopsy be performed to preserve lung tissue for examination. Mr. LaFrentz died days later without their attorney conveying the message to his family, and he was buried without autopsy.
In response to the failure to perform an autopsy, the companies’ attorneys filed a motion for sanctions, arguing that they were unfairly handicapped by being unable to disprove the mesothelioma diagnosis. They asked the court for sanctions in the form of an adverse inference jury instruction, while the family’s attorney argued that the oral communication and letter that followed it were not enough to trigger a duty on their part, or an inference that the failure to conduct an autopsy was destruction of evidence.
Judge Denies Request for Sanctions Against Mesothelioma Victim’s Family
District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division decided against sanctioning the mesothelioma victim’s family in the case. Though he agreed that the family’s counsel needed to be more forthright about responding to requests, he also felt that the plaintiffs themselves were not aware that the companies were contesting the mesothelioma diagnosis or that there had been a request to preserve lung tissue. The judge agreed to a milder remedy in which the information would be conveyed to the jury without casting aspersions on the family.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, it is important that you make sure you have access to knowledgeable resources and allies working on your behalf. For more information, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net today at 1-800-692-8608