A tort is a civil wrong constituted by an act or omission that causes injury to another’s body, finances, or other interest. Courts impose liability on the person who committed the act or omission, and the injured party is entitled to be put back in the position they were in before the tort occurred. This is accomplished through financial compensation or some other remedy.
A toxic tort occurs when a person is injured by a toxic substance, such as pesticides, asbestos, lead-based paint, or dry-cleaning solvents. This can occur when a substance is thought to be safe but turns out to be harmful, or when a substance known to be harmful leaks into the groundwater or air. When a toxic tort occurs, a large group of people typically suffer similar harm from the same source. Therefore, plaintiffs often join their toxic tort claims in class action lawsuits.
To succeed in a lawsuit for a toxic tort, plaintiffs usually must prove that the substance posed certain risks, that they were exposed to the substance, and that they were injured or got sick due to their exposure.
Possible Defendants in Toxic Torts Cases
Determining the proper defendant in a toxic tort case can be a challenge for plaintiffs. They may not know who manufactured the toxin, or multiple companies may have been involved in its production. In the case of pollution, several factories may have contributed to the toxin leak. Plaintiffs generally can sue any person or entity with a possible link to the dangerous substance. Possible defendants include:
- Manufacturers and distributors of the dangerous substance;
- Manufacturers and distributors of the machines or devices that exposed the plaintiffs to the dangerous substance;
- Owners of the property where exposure to the dangerous substance occurred;
- Manufacturers and distributors of defective equipment that failed to keep the plaintiffs safe;
- Companies involved in the storage of the dangerous substance.
Evidence in Toxic Torts Cases
Because plaintiffs’ exposure may have occurred several years before a resultant injury manifests, they may face issues proving exposure and harm. The gap in time may make it difficult to obtain evidence, as records may have already been disposed of and witnesses may have trouble remembering events. Proving causation is also a challenge when time has passed, and defendants will likely try to introduce evidence of an intervening cause between the plaintiffs’ exposure to the toxin and the harm they suffered.
Additionally, because toxic tort cases often depend on expert testimony of scientific evidence that the toxin can cause the type of injury or illness alleged, a toxic tort claim that once appeared weak may become viable as new research is conducted and published. Because of the complexity of proof and importance of expert testimony in toxic torts cases, it is best to consult an attorney if you believe you have been harmed from exposure to a toxic substance.
Plaintiffs in toxic torts cases should also consult an attorney to determine whether their claim can be brought within the federal and state statutes of limitations.
Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on toxic torts.