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Genetic testing facility sued over false paternity test results

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An Effingham family is suing a genetic testing facility for allegedly providing false paternity test results, which broke up the family and led to years of assault for the child who learned the truth through 30 years later.

Alton attorney Joshua Edelson of Gianaris Trial Lawyers LLC filed the complaint in the St. Clair County Circuit Court on behalf of Effingham plaintiffs Carrie Michaels, 37, her biological father Michael Ashley and her mother Marada Zumbahlen.

The lawsuit was filed against Genetic Design Inc., Genzyme Corporation, Laboratory Corporation of America, doing business as LabCorp, HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, formerly known as Effingham Medical Center and Sanofi-Aventis LLC.

Genzyme acquired or merged with Genetic Design during or before 2009. LabCorp acquired or merged with Genzyme in 2010. Then Sanofi acquired Genzyme in 2011.

According to the complaint, Michaels was born on Sept. 15, 1985, as Carrie Ashley. Afterwards, Michael Ashley and Zumbahlen married. Then on April 13, 1989, when Michaels was three years old, the plaintiffs sought a DNA paternity test through a blood draw at HSHS in Effingham. The evaluation was performed by Genetic Design to determine whether Ashley was Michaels’ biological father.

The plaintiffs received the results on May 18, 1989, which allegedly improperly identified that Ashley had a 0% chance of being Michaels’ biological father. As a result of the faulty test findings, Ashley and Zumbahlen divorced on Sept. 26, 1991, the suit states.

“Plaintiff, Marada Zumbahlen, relying on the test results, believing the test results to be true, and with the belief that James Zumbahlen was the biological father of Carrie Michaels, married James Zumbahlen,” Edelson wrote.

Michaels was then physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by James Zumbahlen over the next 12 years, the suit states. She also claims she witnessed him abusing other minors during that time.

On May 5, 2014, James Zumbahlen pleaded guilty to nine counts of child sex offenses in exchange for a 25 year prison sentence.

Then as an adult, Michaels participated in an ancestry DNA test. In July 2021, she was alerted that Ashley’s aunt had an ancestral link with her.

Michaels contacted Ashley to inform him of the results. They did further DNA testing with both LabCorp and Sterling TEK. The results from Sterling TEK revealed on Aug. 5, 2021, that there was a 99.9999997% probability that Ashley was the biological father of Michaels.

The results from LabCorp were received on Dec. 22, 2021, which also showed there was a 99.99% probability that Ashley was Michaels’ biological father.

As a result of the previous erroneous test results, Michaels had no relationship with her father during her childhood and early adult years.

“The defendants’ faulty testing when Carrie Michaels’s (sic) was a child deprived her of a relationship with her father Michael Ashley for decades and put her in harms way with an abusive stepfather,” Edelson wrote.

“It also deprived Michael Ashley a relationship with her biological daughter,” he added. “The time has now come for the defendants to take responsibility for their mistake and the life-long damages, injuries, and pain it has caused plaintiffs.”

The plaintiffs allege the defendants owed them a duty to conduct accurate DNA testing. Because they breached that duty, Michaels had to endure years of abuse and assault and Ashley suffers from the guilt and anguish  “in feeling that he should have been there for his biological daughter and was prevented.”

“In the normal course of DNA testing that is performed without negligence, plaintiffs’ injuries would not have occurred if defendants had used ordinary care throughout the course of the DNA test that was administered, which was exclusively under the control and management of defendants and produced an incorrect result,” Edelson wrote.

The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages to compensate them for their injuries and court costs.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 23-LA-540

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