First District Appellate Court Reinstates Claims of Children Who Suffered Birth Defects Caused by Their Father’s Exposure to Toxic Chemicals in the Workplace

Man holding baby

On December 12, 2017, Attorney Michael Lubeck of Cooney & Conway argued before the Illinois Appellate Court on behalf of children who suffer birth defects as a result of their father’s occupational exposure to toxic chemicals in semiconductor manufacturing.

While semiconductor manufacture is often portrayed as a “clean” industry, it utilizes of dozens of chemicals, solvents and gasses - some of which have been linked to birth defects in the offspring of exposed workers. Cooney & Conway currently represents dozens of such children in litigation against Defendant, Motorola Solutions, in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The injured children reside in either Texas or Arizona.

Decision Appealed, Allegations Satisfied Illinois Procedural Law

While the claims of children injured through their mother’s chemical exposures continue to proceed towards trial in Chicago, Motorola sought to dismiss the claims of those children whose fathers experienced the toxic exposure. Motorola primarily argued that, under the substantive laws of Arizona and Texas, it had no duty to protect male employees’ children from the harm caused by the reproductively toxic chemicals. In April 2017, the Circuit Court dismissed those children’s claims.

Cooney & Conway appealed the decision. Mr. Lubeck, who also authored the appellate briefs, noted that while the law of Texas and Arizona governed the substantive claims, the procedural law of Illinois controlled the pleadings. He successfully argued that the Plaintiffs’ detailed, factual allegations satisfied Illinois pleading requirements.

More importantly, Plaintiffs argued that, while the complex medical and scientific evidence needed to prove cases based on a father’s chemical exposure continues to evolve rapidly, the long-established tort law of Texas and Arizona steadfastly protects an injured person’s legal rights.

“The interplay between established legal principles and the cutting edge scientific evidence used to prove these cases is unknown to most personal injury attorneys nationwide,” Mr. Lubeck said. “The medical and scientific proof marshalled in these cases is complex and extensive, but the fundamental tenets of tort law are more than sufficient to fairly address the factual issues presented.”

Employer's Duty to Provide Safe Workplace for All Employees

Court Allows Birth Defect ClaimsOn February 20, 2018, the Appellate Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Mary Ann Mason, agreed with Plaintiff’s argument. Importantly, the Court recognized that an employer’s “duty to provide a safe workplace free from harmful toxins extended to all its employees – male and female.”

The injured child’s right to recover money damages for her birth defects does not depend on whether the damaging chemical exposure occurred through her mother or her father. Further, the Appellate Court recognized that the injured child’s right to legal recourse exists regardless of whether the employer’s negligent conduct in exposing the parent to chemicals occurred before or after the child’s conception.

As courts around the country grapple with these types of claims in the rapidly changing medical and scientific landscape, Cooney & Conway is hopeful that the Ledeaux opinion will foster the nuanced legal analysis needed to protect the rights of children injured by their father’s preconception exposure to reproductively toxic chemicals.

The Appellate Court remanded the case to the Circuit Court for further proceedings on the children’s claims. Defendant, Motorola, has sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Cooney & Conway worked in conjunction with Michael T. Reagan of Ottawa, Illinois on this appeal. Mr. Reagan is past President of the Illinois Appellate Lawyers Association.

Listen to the oral argument here: