Toxic Torts

Overview

What is a toxic tort?

A toxic tort occurs when a toxic substance injures a person.

What law governs toxic torts?

In the United States, state laws govern torts, including toxic torts.

What must an injured person show to win a toxic tort claim?

An injured person must prove by a preponderance of evidence—meaning, it is more likely than not—that the defendant exposed the injured person to toxic chemicals and the exposure directly caused the injury. A plaintiff may face some difficulty in proving causation because some toxic products cause injuries that only become apparent after the passage of many years. Additionally, a toxic product may be just one contributing factor to an injury or illness, such as when smoker suffering from lung cancer asserts that asbestos exposure and not smoking caused the cancer.

Statutes of limitations generally require injured parties to file suit within a certain time period after their injuries occurred. At first blush, this rule would seem to eliminate those toxic tort claims where an injury does not become apparent until many years have elapsed. However, most statutes of limitations do not bar toxic tort cases because the time period generally only begins to run once the injury is discovered, or would have been discovered by a reasonable person.

A defendant of a toxic tort lawsuit usually argues that the toxic substance at issue was not the source of the plaintiff's injury. For example, in an asbestos exposure case, a defendant may attempt to attribute the plaintiff's cancer to cigarette smoking instead of the asbestos exposure.

The same toxins often affect thousands of people. Because of the large number of people exposed to toxic materials, resulting in similar injuries and claims, persons alleging a toxic tort often file their shared grievance as a group in a class action.

How do toxic tort injuries occur?

Toxic injuries occur in several ways. People are exposed to many different toxins in their daily lives, often at home and at work. The two most common types of toxic injuries result from workplace exposure to toxic substances, such as asbestos, and by toxins in pharmaceutical drugs.

Common sources of toxic injuries

  • Asbestos
  • Pharmaceutical drugs
  • Pesticides
  • Waste - hazardous and toxic
  • Toxic mold
  • Thimerosal (a vaccination preservative)
  • Radioactive material
  • Radiation
  • Tobacco
  • Cosmetic products
  • Household chemicals