Toxic Torts

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 What is Toxic Exposure?

Toxic substances are things which are harmful to the human body. Toxic exposure is a condition which occurs when a human body comes into contact with a toxic substance.

What are Some Examples of Toxic Exposure?

There are numerous different types of toxic exposure which may occur in many different environments. Examples of toxic exposure may include:

  • Exposure to chemicals in your workplace;
  • Exposure to mold, including dangerous forms of black mold;
  • Exposure to asbestos;
  • Exposure to lead paint;
  • Exposure to toxic fumes from certain activities, including welding;
  • Dangerous chemicals in medications/drugs which are defective;
  • Environmental contamination because of the release of certain gasses or toxins; and
  • Contamination of soil or groundwater due to the dumping of wastes and chemicals.

What are Toxic Torts?

Toxic torts litigation is a subcategory of personal injury law. These types of cases involve injuries that are caused by toxic substances.

In many cases, the injury results from a plaintiff being exposed to a substance without being aware of it, only to later discover that they have a serious medical condition as a result. After tracing where the condition likely resulted from, a plaintiff may be able to file a lawsuit to recover damages from the party that is responsible for the exposure.

Because of this, toxic tort claims are sometimes referred to as toxic exposure lawsuits. Many toxic tort claims are filed as toxic exposure class action lawsuits in cases where numerous individuals have been injured by the same substance.

These types of lawsuits are often associated with relatively high amounts of damages awards.

What Types of Injuries are Involved With Toxic Torts?

Toxic tort injuries are typically caused by an exposure to some type of dangerous chemical substance. For example, this often occurs with substances used in workplaces or residential areas, including:

  • Paints;
  • Insulation; and
  • Other sealants.

Another common source of toxic torts includes exposure to a pesticide when handled by an agricultural worker. Generally, many toxic tort injuries involve the way the toxin enters the body.

A toxic may enter the body through:

  • Inhalation;
  • Skin contact; or
  • Ingestion.

This may lead to:

  • Various skin injuries, such as rashes, burns, or boils;
  • Lung diseases, especially those associated with exposure to asbestos or tobacco;
  • Sensory injuries, including injuries to the:
    • eyes;
    • ears; or
    • nose;
  • Various internal injuries due to ingesting or swallowing toxic substances through food or water; and
  • Leakage from surgically implanted medical devices.

The type of injury which results from toxic exposure will also vary depending upon the type of toxin which is involved and how long the individual was exposed to the substance or chemical.

What Should I Do if I Have Been Subject to Toxic Exposure?

There are several steps that an individual should take if they believe that they may have been involved in a toxic tort situation. First, an individual should seek immediate medical attention for any injuries which they may have.

It is also good to get checked to determine if other individuals around you are showing the same types of symptoms, such as:

  • Coughing;
  • Rashes;
  • Difficulty breathing; or
  • Other symptoms.

After an individual receives medical treatment, it is a good idea for them to document their claim, which includes:

  • Making a file which contains all of their:
    • medical expenses;
    • hospital bills; and
    • medicine fees;
  • Creating a written account of the events leading up to the injury or injuries, for example, if new paint was used at their work or if they noticed different smells in the area, etc.;
  • Obtaining contact information from any witnesses, and from other individuals who may have been injured from the same toxic source; and
  • Keeping records of any work they have missed due to their injuries along with the amounts of any corresponding lost wages.

Taking these steps will make it much easier if an individual decides to file a claim or a lawsuit in court. This information may be used as evidence in court, depending upon the nature of the claim and the information which the individual recorded.

What are Other Causes of Action?

A personal injury lawsuit is not the only way that an individual affected by toxic exposure can recover compensation. For example, a work-related injury is not handled through a typical personal injury lawsuit even if the individual’s employer was directly responsible for the exposure that occurred.

Rather, these types of injuries are handled through the workers’ compensation system that exists in all fifty states. Worker’s compensation claims are typically the sole remedy for injuries which occur on the job.

If, however, an employee was injured by a substance, such as asbestos, that is manufactured by a third party, the employee may be able to bring a claim against the manufacturer of that substance in a standard civil lawsuit. In addition, cases involving defective medications or drugs may be brought as product liability cases rather than toxic tort cases.

What are Some Common Toxic Tort Defenses?

Due to the great potential for losses resulting from class action claims, the majority of defendants in toxic tort cases will attempt to assert one or more defenses. Typically, these defenses will be affirmative defenses, which means that, even if a plaintiff can prove that the defendant is liable, the defense will relieve the defendant of liability.

Examples of affirmative defenses in a toxic tort lawsuit may include:

  • Assumption of the risk;
  • Contributory or Comparative negligence;
  • Statute of limitations;
  • Statute of repose; and
  • Conflict of laws.

With assumption of the risk, a plaintiff was warned of the risks but decided to disregard the warnings and expose themselves to the toxic materials anyway. This is a commonly used defense, as toxic materials are often accompanied by some sort of warning or hazard sign.

Contributory or comparative negligence may be an available defense if the plaintiff was negligent in a manner that contributed to their own injuries. In some states, this may prohibit a plaintiff from recovering damages or may reduce the amount of damages they may be awarded. These defenses may not be available in every jurisdiction.

The statute of limitations is the time frame a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit after their injuries are discovered. After this time limit has expired, referred to as tolling the statute of limitations, the plaintiff cannot file their case. This is important in a toxic torts claim, because, in many cases, the effects of toxic exposure may not be discovered until much later.

A statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitations, with the exception that the plaintiff is given an absolute time limit to file their claim, regardless of when they discover the injury. The majority of jurisdictions enforce statutes of limitation rather than statutes of repose.

Conflict of laws may be another available defense. This defense may be available if the laws of a state, county, or city are in direct conflict with federal laws.

Another common way for a defendant to avoid liability is to show that the injured party has not proven all of the elements of a toxic tort violation. For example, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant actually caused the injuries.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Toxic Torts Claim?

Toxic tort claims may be very complex and often involve numerous plaintiffs and defendants. In these types of cases, it is usually necessary to consult with a tort lawyer.

Your lawyer can advise you regarding local, state, and federal laws as well as represent you in court. It is important to note that some personal injury lawyers specialize solely in mass toxic tort litigation.

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