Toxic Torts: The Numerous Substances That Can Injure You or Make You Sick

Toxic Tort

Toxic torts represent a significant subcategory of personal injury law. It happens when people sustain illness or injury due to exposure to a toxic substance. That includes, hazardous waste, asbestos, lead-based paints, “bad prescription drugs” and numerous other dangerous materials and products.

By definition, a tort is a civil wrong, meaning that someone negligently or deliberately causes you injury. By extension, a toxic tort is one in which someone negligently or deliberately manufactured a product or committed an action that caused you to come into contact with a poisonous, noxious or otherwise dangerous substance that injured you or made you sick.

You have the right to sue the person or company responsible for your toxic tort injury or illness. However, if a number of other people have developed the same injury or illness after using or being exposed to the same substance, you can become part of what’s known as a class action lawsuit. Here you and the other victims sue as a group and share in whatever compensation the jury deems appropriate.

Recent Class Action Toxic Tort Examples

The best-known example of a class action toxic tort lawsuit is against Monsanto by a group of cancer victims who alleged that their use of Roundup, Monsanto’s most popular weed-killing product, caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The jury awarded the plaintiffs compensatory damages of $39 million and punitive damages of $250 million. After several appeals by Monsanto, the total award amount reduced to $80 million.

Another example, also from California, is the 1993 case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California immortalized in the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich” that starred Julia Roberts as the real-life Erin Brockovich. This case, brought by residents of Hinkley, CA, alleged that PG&E contaminated their drinking water with hexavalent chromium, a toxin that caused many illnesses and death in Hinkley, particularly among children. The case ultimately settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest such settlement in U.S. history.

Dangerous Toxins

Numerous carcinogens and other toxins can form the basis of a toxic tort lawsuit. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Asbestos exposure that can result in such cancers and other diseases and conditions. Such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and restrictive lung disease
  • Lead-based paint exposure that can cause brain damage in children
  • Pesticides like DDT and dioxin that can result in birth injuries or cancer in children and adults
  • Prescription painkillers. Such as oxycodone (brand name OxyContin), hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin) and fentanyl, all of which result in addiction on the part of their users, often leading to overdose and death
  • Prescription benzodiazepines. Such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), and lorazepam (Ativan), as well as oxazepam (Serax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and temazepam (Restoril), all of which likewise result in addiction on the part of their users, often leading to overdose and death
  • Methadone. Used to treat heroin addiction, but itself a drug that results in addiction on the part of its users, often leading to overdose and death
  • Dry cleaning solvents that can cause brain damage and other major organ damage
  • Landfill waste that can cause leukemia
  • Trichloroethane (TCE). A manmade solvent used to clean metal, that causes central nervous system damage which could lead to death
  • Beryllium. A metal-strengthening chemical used in both the mining industry and the aerospace industry, that causes chronic beryllium disease, a condition that scars your lungs and causes respiratory distress and other symptoms

Types of Toxic Tort Lawsuits

Toxic tort lawsuits come in three varieties: negligence, fraud and strict liability.

Negligence-Based Toxic Tort Lawsuit

You must prove that the plaintiff owed you a duty of care, that he or she breached that duty, that you suffered injury or illness because of the breach and that the defendant’s action was the proximate (i.e., leading) cause of your illness or injury.

Fraud-Based Toxic Tort Lawsuit

You must prove that the plaintiff knew that his or her product contained a toxin, but that he or she nevertheless marketed the product as safe, made misleading statements as to its safety or covered up tests showing that the product was toxic.

Strict Liability Toxic Tort Lawsuit

The defendant’s intent has no bearing. Instead you must prove the following:

  • That the defendant was the designer, manufacturer or seller of the product
  • That he or she designed, manufactured or sold a defective product
  • That the product was defective at the time it was sold
  • That the defendant knew or should have known that the product was defective
  • That you used the product for its intended purpose
  • That your use of the product caused your injury
  • That your injury was or should have been reasonably foreseeable by the defendant

When To Engage an Attorney

Usually, the biggest hurdle facing any plaintiff wishing to bring a negligence, or fraud, based toxic tort lawsuit is proving causation on the part of the defendant. These types of lawsuits are highly fact-specific, therefore, you must rely heavily on scientific studies to prove the connection. You must also rely heavily on the testimony of expert witnesses to explain to the jury, in layman’s terms, exactly how the toxin in question caused your injury or illness, how serious it is, how it will negatively impact you in the future and why the plaintiff should be held accountable for your economic and noneconomic damages.

contact an experienced personal injury attorney who has successfully handled toxic tort lawsuits in the past as soon as you realize you’re sick or injured. He or she assess the viability of your claim and guides you through the legal process. This includes, making sure you file your lawsuit before your state’s statute of limitations for this type of lawsuit expires.

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