Becky McClain used to work for Pfizer in a laboratory that conducted genetic research. But now she’s suing the pharmaceutical company, alleging that she suffers suffer from intermittent paralysis since she was contaminated by a virus designed at the laboratory. According to her lawsuit, McClain suspects that she was exposed to the virus through work by a former Pfizer employee either in 2002 or 2003. The virus, called lentivirus, is similar to HIV and can lead to an AIDS-like outcome. Medical experts working for McClain believe that the virus has affected the way her body channels potassium, leading to complete paralysis up to 12 times a month. Needless to say, McClain doesn’t work for Pfizer any longer.
Medical experts will be watching closely on Monday when the trial begins. Specifically, the highly anticipated trial could raise important safety practices in the field of genetic engineering. Organizations concerned with workplace safety and responsible genetic research have already leapt on the federal lawsuit, using McClain’s argument to bolster their claims that cutting-edge genetic manipulation has outpaced slower government regulations to protect laboratory workers and the public. For example, Jeremy Gruber, the president of the Council for Responsible Genetics recently stated:
“If a worker in a plant as sophisticated as Pfizer is becoming infected with a genetically engineered virus, then I think the potential is everywhere. Genetically engineered viruses are commonly worked on at your average university. The public has a right to know what regulations are in place and what regulations are required to fix an industrywide issue. We need to have a conversation about this. Ms. McClain’s attempt to do that has been hampered at every turn, by the courts and by regulators.”
Nevertheless, Pfizer disputes all of McClain’s claims and argues that they simply fired her because she failed to show up for work. Furthermore, they also allege that she never linked her condition to workplace exposure until after she was fired. Pfizer continues to vehemently defend its workplace safety practices.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.