A tort is an infringement of a right or a wrongful act that causes the victim to experience loss or harm. There are many types of torts, one of which is a toxic tort. Toxic torts are legal claims made by people who have experienced illness or injury from exposure to harmful substances such as chemicals, pesticides, or pharmaceuticals. Toxic tort cases are often filed as mass torts, where multiple lawsuits are filed against the same defendant, or class action lawsuits, where a group of plaintiffs unites to raise a single case.
Typical sources of toxic exposure include:
- Occupational exposure
Workers in construction or chemical production industries are more likely to be exposed to hazardous chemicals such as asbestos, benzene, or lead. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral used in construction materials. The construction, shipbuilding, and automotive repair industry workers are at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers. This exposure can lead to the occurrence of diseases such as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma trust funds were set up in the 1980s to compensate victims who developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos products.
Similarly, those working in nuclear power generation or healthcare may be exposed to radioactive materials, which can cause multiple health issues. In occupational exposure cases, toxic torts are often filed as the employee’s compensation claim. The worker must prove that their illness is due to exposure to the hazardous substance. Sometimes, they may also need to prove that the employer was negligent or failed to provide proper equipment or training for handling toxic substances.
- Pharmaceutical exposure
Pharmaceutical exposure can occur if the manufacturer has included a harmful ingredient in the drug or failed to warn against the consequences of a specific drug. Victims may seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and other damages in this case. A notable example of a pharmaceutical toxic tort is the Thalidomide case in the 1950s and 1960s.
Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women for morning sickness but was found to cause significant congenital disabilities.
In recent years, opioid manufacturers have faced numerous lawsuits for their role in the opioid epidemic. The lawsuits allege that the companies engaged in deceptive marketing and downplayed the associated risks. Pharmaceutical exposure may also occur through errors made by medical practitioners, in which case a wrongly prescribed drug results in harmful interactions with another drug or aggravation of symptoms. In such cases, the claims are usually filed as medical malpractice.
- Consumer product exposure
Various household items and consumer products may expose individuals to many toxins. Consumer product toxic torts are usually filed under product liability claims, which involve claims of defective manufacturing, flawed design, or a failure to provide appropriate warnings or instructions.
Consumer product exposure includes lead poisoning from lead-based paint or drinking water, benzene exposure from cleaning products, formaldehyde exposure from wood products and furniture, and BPA (bisphenol A) exposure from plastic containers. These substances cause serious health issues among users. They are examples of toxins that consumer products can contain.
- Exposure through building materials
Materials used for construction, renovation, and decoration often contain toxic substances. Typical sources of toxic exposure from building materials include lead in lead-based paints, asbestos in flooring or ceiling tiles, formaldehyde in adhesives and composite wood products, and more. Identifying and adequately handling building materials containing toxins is essential, in addition to using safer alternatives wherever possible.
There are two types of building materials toxic torts. One is filing under a premise liability if the landlord or building owner fails to warn the tenant of potentially dangerous chemicals. The other is product liability if the manufacturer has used illegal toxic substances or provided inadequate warnings regarding the presence of toxins.
- Radiation exposure
Radiation exposure can occur in multiple settings and result in serious health issues. Occupational exposure occurs for those working in healthcare or the nuclear power industry. Defective products such as radiation therapy devices may subject users to unsafe radiation levels.
On a larger scale, radiation leaks or contamination of food and water supplies may affect those living near nuclear power plants. If a plaintiff is successful in a radiation exposure toxic tort case, they may be awarded damages for their medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses. Moreover, these cases can bring attention to unsafe practices and encourage companies to prevent future radiation exposure and protect the health and safety of individuals and communities.
- Environmental exposure
Harmful environmental substances refer to toxic chemicals, pollutants, and other hazardous materials in air, water, soil, or other natural resources. Contamination in water supplies can lead to various health problems, especially if consumers ingest this water without treatment. Globally, agricultural pollution is a significant source of contamination in rivers and streams. Similarly, mining activities also contaminate water by discharging waste, heavy metals, and acidic water into nearby water bodies.
The Flint water crisis unfolded in 2014 when Flint, Michigan, switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. The water was not treated before being supplied to households, leading to widespread lead poisoning among the city’s residents. People may also be exposed to air pollution in areas with high smog levels or other pollutants, leading to respiratory issues.
Workers in landfills or individuals living near contaminated sites may experience exposure to hazardous waste. Environmental pollution toxic torts consist of individuals or groups seeking compensation for their injuries or damages through legal action against the responsible parties, such as manufacturers, polluters, or government agencies. They are usually filed as mass torts or class action lawsuits.
As outlined, there are multiple types of toxic torts, including occupational, pharmaceutical, consumer products, building materials, radiation, and environmental exposure to harmful substances. It is important to note that toxic torts can be complex cases that often require the expertise of attorneys who specialize in this area of law. If you believe that exposure to a toxic substance has harmed you or a loved one, it is essential to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who specializes in toxic tort claims to seek compensation.