A tort is a civil wrong, an injury to a person's body, financial situation, or other interest caused by another's negligence or carelessness. A person who has been injured is entitled to be put into the position he or she was in before the tort, often by financial compensation or some other remedy.
A "toxic tort," therefore, is a tort caused by contact with a toxic substance. Because of the advances of corporate industry in the U.S. over the last century, the number of dangerous, toxic substances in the environment has grown immeasurably.
Proving a Toxic Tort Claim
What a plaintiff must prove in a toxic tort case differs depending on the legal theories involved and the relevant state laws. Generally speaking, a plaintiff must show the following to prevail in their case:
- The substance involved was dangerous.
- The plaintiff was exposed to the substance.
- The substance caused harm to the plaintiff.
Of these, typically the last two elements receive the most attention in toxic torts cases. This is especially true when the plaintiff's exposure to toxic substances took place years, and sometimes even decades, in the past.
Time Is Important in Toxic Torts
The passage of time can make it difficult to obtain records and other evidence linking a plaintiff to the toxic substance that allegedly caused them harm. It can also affect the ability to prove causation. Defense counsel would likely look to other intervening factors in the years following an exposure to explain a plaintiff's injuries.
These issues make the fact-finding and discovery phase of a case that much more important. They're also one reason why proving a toxic tort claim often requires testimony from experts in the field.
One final area of concern for cases involving exposure several years in the past is that they could be barred by the applicable statute of limitations. While a state or federal statute will provide a specific time period in which a plaintiff can file a toxic tort claim, when that period starts and ends ultimately depends on the specific facts of a case.
Toxic Tort Substances
Toxic tort claims often develop from occupational exposure, home exposure, consumer products, and pharmaceutical drugs. Some of the toxic substances that have been shown to cause significant injury to people are the following:
- Lead-based paint (brain damage, especially in children),
- Asbestos (lung cancer, restrictive lung disease),
- Dry cleaning and other solvents (brain damage, major organ damage),
- Pesticides such as dioxin and DDT (birth injuries),
- Electro-magnetic fields from utility wires or major appliances (suspected cancer),
- Toxic landfill waste (leukemia, other syndromes),
- Various drugs and pharmaceuticals such as DES and tainted L-tryptophan,
- Common industrial chemicals such as benzene and PCBs, heavy metals and other chemicals such as mercury and arsenic.
For related legal information, visit the Personal Injury Law Glossary in the FindLaw Legal Dictionary. You can also find answers to toxic tort questions on Ask Super Lawyers. For more information on litigation in specific areas of toxic torts, see the references below:
Specific Questions About Toxic Torts? Consult with a Lawyer
If you've been exposed to and injured by a dangerous substance, you might be able to recover for your losses through one of several toxic torts claims. Speak with a local toxic torts attorney who can review your case and help you determine the strength of your claim. They can help determine the time limitations related to your case and will determine the necessary type of evidence to help in your claim.