I wrote this post about LabCorp and its difficulty with this particular woman’s paternity test months ago, but I kept finding more timely things to publish instead of this. Nonetheless, it is an interesting court case and is still relevant.
I have yet another court case that I wrote up months ago that I will publish relatively soon.
In or around 2006, the plaintiff (Berman) asked the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) to perform a paternity test on the man (White) she believed was the father of her child and to collect child support from him. DHS arranged for LabCorp to do the paternity testing. The test came back that White was not the father. The test was repeated a second time, with the same result.
The DHS finished its action against White because of the negative paternity tests. The plaintiff subsequently submitted an envelope supposedly containing White’s DNA to a different lab.
This time the results showed that White actually was the father. So Berman then filed a paternity suit against White and the court ordered him to undergo yet another paternity test; the results showed again that he was indeed the father. The court then ruled that he was legally the father of the child based on these results. White appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) affirmed the ruling.
So what happened here exactly? Well, the plaintiff alleges LabCorp used the wrong identification number for White (the potential father) which led LabCorp to use a completely different man’s DNA for the testing. Then, for the second test (which also said White was not the father), LabCorp allegedly used the correct identification number but still somehow tested the same incorrect sample it tested the first time.
Ms. Berman then filed suit against LabCorp while the paternity issue was still ongoing, seeking monetary damages for negligence.
During the negligence suit, LabCorp argued the DHS proceeding was quasi-judicial in nature, and that well established case law in Oklahoma shielded it from claims against evidence presented within that proceeding. The original trial court agreed and dismissed the case against LabCorp, but the plaintiff appealed and eventually, the case made its way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court decided the trial court made an error when it dismissed the suit against LabCorp. From the Supreme Court decision:
The importance of reliable and accurate DNA test results cannot be overstated. This type of forensic evidence is becoming part of our jurisprudence, and this trend is not likely to end. Much stands in the balance of the lives of those relying on such test results to protect their legal rights in a court of law. Inaccurate results could deal a devastating blow to those who otherwise have no ability to prove their cases on their own. Without recourse against a negligent defendant, a plaintiff has no remedy. Berman stands in that position in her relationship with LabCorp. Inaccurate results proved fatal to her case in her DHS proceeding. She was forced to pursue further legal action at her own expense. Her risk was foreseeable, and LabCorp owed her a duty to prevent that risk of harm.
We, therefore, hold LabCorp owed a duty to Berman to perform accurate DNA testing for purposes of determining the paternity of her child. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment. We, therefore, reverse and remand this case for trial.
As the first paragraph from the part of the opinion I posted above states, this type of DNA testing is used in forensic laboratories all the time. It is absolutely terrifying to me that a simple mix up involving an identification number on a sample, like what allegedly happened in this case, could potentially lead to the prolonged incarceration or even the execution of an innocent person.
While I have not seen the outcome of the negligence trial yet, it would seem LabCorp is fighting an uphill battle, given what the OK Supreme Court said in its decision:
LabCorp tested the DNA of a completely different man…
Comparison of the lab results show, without doubt, that two different men were tested…
I’ll keep my eye out for the trial verdict and will update you all when it becomes available.