Asbestos Attorneys Accuse Mesothelioma Victim’s Family of Evading Autopsy Request

When James LaFrentz died in October of 2019, he was in the midst of a lawsuit accusing General Dynamics and 3M Company of negligence and blaming them for his malignant mesothelioma diagnosis. But because LaFrentz was a lifelong smoker, the companies questioned whether he truly had the asbestos-related disease. They wanted a sample of his lung tissue preserved after his death and informed the victim’s attorney of this orally when they learned his death was imminent, following up with a letter and email the next day. But the attorney did not relay this to the family and LaFrentz died a few days later. He was buried before any of the attorneys learned of his death, without an autopsy being conducted. Afterwards, the asbestos companies’ attorneys filed a motion for the court to inform the jury of wrongdoing on the part of the victim’s attorney.

Judge Notes Defense Hesitation to Ask for Autopsy Before Mesothelioma Death

In reviewing the actions of both the defense counsel and the plaintiff’s attorney, District Judge Andrew S. Hansen of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas acknowledged both sides’ predicament in the face of an impending mesothelioma death. He noted that the asbestos companies’ attorneys never filed a motion for an autopsy, and therefore there was no duty for the victim’s attorney to preserve lung tissue. He also noted that the victim’s attorney was, in fact, on notice that the companies wanted an autopsy performed. 

Writing about the hesitation on both attorneys’ parts with reference to an impending mesothelioma death, the judge wrote, “It is not surprising that the Defendants were hesitant to make what some might consider a morbid motion prior to LaFrentz’s passing.” He also said that the oral requests “at the very least” created “a duty to respond to defense counsel’s requests.”

Unanswered Question on Mesothelioma Diagnosis Leads to Request for Sanctions

Faced with an unanswered question on whether Mr. LaFrentz had malignant mesothelioma or lung cancer following a lifetime of smoking, the asbestos companies’ attorneys asked the judge to sanction the plaintiffs. They asked him to tell the jury that the failure represented “spoliated evidence in bad faith,” but he refused to do so because he felt that the adverse inference was inappropriate and that no bad faith existed. Instead, he decided to let the jury know that the companies’ attorneys had requested the information in a timely manner and that it had not been refused, as well as that LaFrentz died and was buried before the family was informed of the request, preventing the evidence from being collected.  He said he would not tell the jury what conclusions they should reach regarding that information. 

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Paul Danziger

Paul Danziger

Reviewer and Editor

Paul Danziger grew up in Houston, Texas and earned a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. For over 25 years years he has focused on representing mesothelioma cancer victims and others hurt by asbestos exposure. Paul and his law firm have represented thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, recovering significant compensation for injured clients. Every client is extremely important to Paul and he will take every call from clients who want to speak with him. Paul and his law firm handle mesothelioma cases throughout the United States.

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