Toxicogenomics: Toward the Future of Toxic Tort Causation

June 16, 2012

Plaintiff suspects that a chemical in her city’s water supply has caused her to develop a rare form of liver cancer. Defendant, a company in Plaintiff’s city, has been discharging the chemical into the water for a number of years. Both parties in the toxic tort litigation are at the mercy of an unevenly developed and often insufficient body of science to establish or rebut the required causation element.
This article will examine the current causation paradigm in toxic tort litigation, pointing out its specific weaknesses. The article will then introduce an emerging discipline, toxicogenomics, which will eventually make it possible to specifically describe the molecular pathways leading from exposure to injury, and in so doing will greatly improve the reliability of causation evidence in toxic tort cases to the benefit of both plaintiffs and defendants. To illustrate its potential usefulness, this article will walk through a hypothetical toxicogenomics experiment involving a suspected liver toxin. The article will conclude by suggesting that judges controlled by Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. would be wise not to admit such evidence until more research can definitively link the described molecular pathways to the specific injury.