Pesticides, chemicals, and other dangerous substances can cause harm to people who are exposed to them through the air, soil, or groundwater. While sometimes the risks of certain substances are known, other hazards are not discovered until a product has been used for years or decades. Since large groups of people tend to suffer similar types of harm from the same source, plaintiffs often come together in class action lawsuits based on these substances.
Since the damage and illnesses caused by toxic torts often take many years to appear, plaintiffs may face the difficult task of addressing possible intervening factors.
Toxic tort plaintiffs usually need to show that the substance posed certain risks, they were exposed to the substance, and they were injured or became ill because of their exposure. The last of these elements is often the most contested, since a defendant may argue that a different substance or a pre-existing condition actually caused the injury or illness. Symptoms arising from exposure may not develop for a long time, making causation more challenging to establish than in many other personal injury cases. In some cases, if a long time has elapsed since the exposure, a defendant also may argue that the claim should be dismissed because it was brought after the statute of limitations had expired.
Situations Involving Toxic Torts
Many workers are exposed to hazardous substances on the job, such as asbestos. They likely can recover workers’ compensation benefits for a job-related illness. Additional compensation may be available from entities other than their employer that were responsible for the product or exposure. Other victims may suffer from exposure to dangerous substances in their homes, such as pesticides or toxic mold. Products that consumers take for granted and use in their daily lives may turn out to have harmful side effects that were previously unknown. Also, entire neighborhoods may suffer from contaminated air or water, which may be especially harmful for children or people with certain health conditions. This may result from irresponsible practices at nearby factories.
Defendants in Toxic Tort Cases
Determining who caused a toxic tort is not always straightforward. A handful of companies may have worked together in making a product, while several different factories may have contributed to the pollution in a residential community. Thus, toxic tort claims often name a broad range of defendants. Plaintiffs may sue not only entities responsible for making a dangerous product but also entities responsible for making machines or equipment that exposed the plaintiff to the hazard or failed to keep them safe. Distributors and companies responsible for storing and shipping the product also may be liable.
Plaintiffs sometimes also sue entities that owned or controlled the property where the exposure occurred. This part of the claim may be based on a premises liability theory, which involves certain distinctive requirements.
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Evidence in Toxic Tort Cases
Gathering evidence of exposure that occurred many years before symptoms arose can be difficult. Not all of the written records supporting a plaintiff’s claim may still exist, and witnesses may not remember events clearly. These cases also hinge on scientific studies that explain how a certain type of substance can lead to a certain health condition. Scientists’ understanding of risks related to various chemicals and other products can change drastically over time. A claim that was not previously viable may suddenly become viable if new research reveals undiscovered links between a substance and an injury or disease. However, the sophistication of these claims and the technical evidence involved pose certain challenges that may best be faced with the assistance of an attorney.