Toxic torts are personal injury claims and lawsuits stemming from injuries caused by exposure to harmful substances which may include chemicals, mold, pharmaceuticals or pesticides. Often times, the plaintiff in a toxic tort case has been exposed to a harmful substance through soil, groundwater or the air. In these types of claims, the manufacturers or suppliers of the toxic products can be held responsible for injuries sustained by victims.
In a toxic tort claim, the plaintiff is alleging that exposure to some type of dangerous substance caused him/her an illness or injury. Toxic tort lawsuits are commonly brought by a group of individuals in what is called class action lawsuits. For instance, a group of workers may allege that they’ve been exposed to a harmful chemical at their workplace that caused them to become sick. Toxic tort claims typically fall into the following general areas:
Workplace Exposure – Workplace toxic exposure occurs when employees are exposed to toxic substances at high levels for short periods of time or at lower levels on a long-term basis. This type of toxic tort lawsuit has been brought a countless number of times over the past few decades by workers who were exposed to asbestos.
Pharmaceuticals – Toxic tort claims involving pharmaceutical drugs are brought by individuals who allege that some type of pharmaceutical is responsible for their health problems, injuries or for the death of their loved ones. In these types of cases, the pharmaceuticals used by the plaintiffs have purportedly caused unintended side effects.
Exposure in the Home Environment – When individuals breathe or ingest harmful substances unknowingly inside their homes and they suffer health problems as a result, they can file toxic tort claims against the people or entities responsible for the products that sickened them.
Consumer Product Exposure – When consumers use products which are for sale in the marketplace, they assume the products are safe. Often times, toxic tort claims are brought by individuals who have developed health problems or suffered injuries due to using consumer products such as pesticides.
In order for a plaintiff to win a toxic tort lawsuit, he or she must prove:
- That the substance in question was dangerous
- That he or she was exposed to the substance and,
- That the substance caused harm to the plaintiff.
It is essential to hire a California toxic torts attorney if you have been sickened or injured by a harmful substance. Defendants in these types of cases are typically large corporations that hire aggressive legal teams in order to discredit these types of claims. Attempting to do legal battle with a large company alone is never advisable as these attorneys work hard to poke holes in plaintiffs’ cases and to present evidence that the plaintiffs’ have not proven all the necessary elements of their claims.
Proving the Cause of the Illness or Injury
In order for a plaintiff to win a toxic tort lawsuit, he or she must prove that the toxic substance is the cause of the injuries or sickness he/she suffers from. This is where things become a bit tricky as many health problems caused by toxic exposure do not manifest themselves for years after exposure. A plaintiff must eliminate other factors such as exposure to other substances in order to prove that the alleged substance was without a doubt, the reason why he or she became ill. It can be difficult to find evidence of this nature when a lawsuit is brought years after the initial exposure. It also can be very challenging to identify and reach witnesses and to find related documents which are relevant.
This is why toxic tort lawsuits are very much dependent upon science. A scientific study that links a plaintiff’s documented illness to a substance can make or break the case. Advances made in science can change the legal landscape of a toxic tort case instantly. For example, a lawsuit filed that alleges a harmful chemical used at the plaintiff’s place of employment could be lost due to inadequate evidence. But when just one new study is done that links that chemical to the type of illness the plaintiff suffered from, other plaintiffs in similar lawsuits may begin to win their lawsuits wherein they are awarded substantial settlement amounts.
Who Can Be Sued in Toxic Tort Cases
Another very good reason to hire an experienced toxic tort attorney is that figuring out who to sue in a toxic tort case can be difficult to determine. Many times, a plaintiff does not know what company made the dangerous substance they were exposed to. For example, if an individual takes a medication that happens to be made by several different pharmaceutical companies and he or she becomes seriously ill years later, it can be very challenging to determine which manufacturer made the particular medication the individual took.
Generally speaking, toxic tort plaintiffs and their attorneys file lawsuits against all parties that could be held responsible for the dangerous substance exposure. These parties may include:
- The manufacturers and distributors of toxic substances
- The manufacturers and distributors of devices or machinery that exposed workers to toxic substances
- The property owners of the premises where the plaintiff(s) was subjected to the toxic exposure
- The manufacturers of equipment such as safety gear that failed to keep the plaintiff(s) safe from the harmful substance and,
- Companies that were responsible for storing the harmful substances
How Toxic Substances Enter/Affect the Body
When people are exposed to toxic substances, the results can be devastating as a wide range of short and long-term health problems can arise as can death. There are three primary ways toxic substances enter the body:
Ingestion – Ingestion occurs when a substance is taken into the body by mouth (swallowing). Ingestion of toxic substances may occur as a result of eating in a contaminated environment.
Absorption – Substances that come into contact with the skin and eyes may be absorbed into the body wherein they cause harm to various systems and organs.
Inhalation – When a harmful substance is breathed in or inhaled, it can be easily absorbed through the tissues of the lungs. Often times, harmful substances are inhaled unknowingly by workers in occupational environments.
Once a toxic substance has come into contact with the body, it may have either an acute or immediate effect or chronic, long-term effects. For example, skin that has caustic acid spilled on it will be acutely affected as it will burn the skin immediately. Exposure to asbestos, on the other hand, may result in the individual getting lung cancer many years later. This is a chronic effect or long-term effect of the exposure to the harmful substance (asbestos).
There are a number of substances and products that may be involved in toxic tort lawsuits including:
Asbestos – Asbestos is a naturally-occurring material that was widely used in the construction industry for decades. Due to its strength, durability, resistance to fire and affordability, it has routinely been used as a building and electrical insulation. Asbestos exposure becomes a health problem when high concentrations of the fibers in this material are inhaled over a long period of time.
Asbestos litigation is the most enduring mass civil litigation in the United States with far-reaching implications for manufacturers, insurances and the legal system. Asbestos has been proven to cause cancer in humans. People exposed to asbestos have an increased chance of getting two types of cancer: lung cancer and mesothelioma which is a cancer of the thin membrane that surrounds the lung and other internal organs. Both types of these cancers are often fatal. The amount of time between exposure to asbestos and the first signs of disease can be as much as three decades.
Toxic mold – There are numerous species of molds found in the US which are not harmful to humans. However, there are some toxic molds such as Aspergillus, Penicillium and Stachybotrys chartarum which are known to cause health problems when people are exposed to significant quantities of these mold spores. Molds thrive in moist warm areas such as damp basements, closets, bathrooms and inside wall cavities and flooring of buildings. Prolonged exposure to toxic mold can result in long-lasting, serious health problems including eye irritation, breathing difficulties, confusion, memory loss, depression, respiratory damage and lung disease.
Lead paint – Prior to the late 1970s, lead was a common additive to everyday, household paint. A great many older homes and businesses still have lead paint present. While lead paint in good condition does not pose an immediate health hazard, when it is disintegrated over time, the lead in the paint can be unknowingly inhaled or ingested wherein it enters the bloodstream.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the health hazards of lead paint exposure as they can develop learning disabilities, behavioral problems and suffer from reduced attention spans. In both children and adults, lead poisoning can cause hypertension, muscle, and joint impairment, nerve and brain damage, reduced kidney function, seizures, coma, and death.
Pesticides – Pesticides are toxic chemicals that are used to kill pests. There are many types of pesticides in widespread use across the United States including herbicides (designed to kill weeds and to control vegetation), fungicides (designed to kill fungus), rodenticides (designed to kill rodents) and many more which are designed to kill other types of living organisms. Pesticides are heavily used in agriculture, in industrial settings, and at waste treatment plants. Pesticides are also widely used for the control of vegetation and pests in many public places including schools and all types of businesses. In addition to being toxic to pests, many of these substances are also harmful to humans. When these harmful chemicals are inhaled, touched or ingested, they can lead to neurological problems, reproductive problems, interference with infant development and cancer.
Dangerous pharmaceuticals – We routinely read about drug-related product liability lawsuits stemming from health problems associated with all types of pharmaceuticals. Some of these cases involve defectively manufactured pharmaceutical drugs, pharmaceuticals with dangerous and potentially deadly side effects and pharmaceuticals which were marketed improperly. An improperly marketed pharmaceutical is one in which consumers were not provided with adequate instruction regarding the safe and proper use of the drug.
If you’ve been injured or have become ill due to a harmful substance you came into contact with, it’s important to seek legal assistance as ‘going it alone’ against what could be a large corporation would inevitably end badly. Often times the defendants in toxic tort lawsuits are large companies that fiercely defend themselves legally because they know that losing just one lawsuit could end up costing them millions of dollars. The team at Hogan Injury is not intimidated by these types of defendants. We will work hard to help you win your case so you get the compensation you need and rightfully deserve.