15 January 2013
The Supreme Court of Delaware recently held that Texas law did not recognize preconception torts and that the Texas Workers Compensation Act barred a claim for a preconception tort brought by a child whose injuries were allegedly caused by his father’s workplace exposure to toxic chemicals. Peters v. Texas Instruments, Inc., 2013 WL 85245 (Del. Jan. 8, 2013).
Christopher Peters was allegedly born with severe birth defects, including retinoblastoma. Christopher and his parents sued Texas Instruments, alleging that Christopher’s father was exposed to chemicals while working in Texas Instruments’ semiconductor manufacturing facilities in Texas which damaged the father’s sperm and caused Christopher’s birth defects.
The Superior Court of Delaware held that Christopher’s claims were derivative of his father’s alleged workplace injury and, thus, were barred by the Texas Workers Compensation Act. As the court wrote, “Christopher’s injury is entirely dependent on his father’s alleged workplace exposure.” According to plaintiffs’ theory of causation, if the father’s sperm had not been damaged at work, Christopher would not have been born with birth defects.
The court also held that preconception tort liability is not a separate tort recognized under Texas law and that there is no duty to an un-conceived child, explaining that “this Court will not recognize [preconception] tort[s] in the absence of [controlling state law] establishing it.”
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the Superior Court’s decision without analysis.
Peters is important in the expanding area of preconception torts and birth defect claims from alleged parental exposures. There have been dozens of cases filed in the United States against semiconductor manufacturers that allege similar claims with several still pending in Delaware and other courts. Moreover, the potential for claims arising out of alleged preconception liability, birth defects and alleged chemical exposure expands well beyond the semiconductor industry. Peters helps clarify the limits on an employer’s potential liability to the children, even as yet un-conceived children, of employees.
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