What is a Toxic Tort?


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Toxic substances are all around us. Even products and materials thought to be safe may contain chemicals and substances that can be hazardous. What happens when a severe injury occurs because of these toxic substances? To help you get a better understanding, let's look into the basics surrounding toxic tort litigation.

What Is Toxic Tort Litigation?

The definition of a toxic tort is pretty simple. A toxic tort is a legal claim that arises from exposure to a toxic substance. Individuals who have been exposed to and injured by dangerous substances such as chemicals, pesticides, or pharmaceutical drugs may have toxic tort legal claims.

How Does Exposure To These Toxic Substances Happen?

You may be wondering – if these types of substances are so dangerous, then how is it possible for so many individuals to be exposed to them? With all of the technological advances in today's society, from how our food is grown to all the personal products we use to the medicines we take, we are constantly exposed to substances and chemicals. Unfortunately, this exposure can sometimes make us sick. Even when new products have been tested for safety, the possibility of problems, illness, or side effects exists. Sometimes, exposure to a dangerous substance occurs when a dangerous substance accidentally leaks into the ground, groundwater, or air.

Most toxic tort injuries occur through one of the following avenues:

  • Consumer Products: Individuals may use products that cause unintended illnesses. Products that have been found to cause such illnesses range from pesticides to breast implants to talcum powder.
  • Pharmaceuticals: Even though pharmaceutical drugs are tested before becoming available to the general public, sometimes these medications cause unintended side effects and can lead to catastrophic injuries.
  • Home Exposure: This can occur when individuals come in contact with dangerous substances in their homes, such as mold or formaldehyde-treated flooring.
  • Environmental Exposure: Individuals can unknowingly be exposed to a toxic substance released into the air or leaked into the ground or groundwater.
  • Occupational Exposure: This occurs in the workplace when individuals come in contact with harmful substances like benzene, beryllium, and silica. Asbestos exposure, leading to the development of mesothelioma, is one of the most widely known types of occupational toxic tort cases.

Examples Of Toxic Tort Litigation In Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the most common types of toxic torts cases include:

  • Groundwater contamination: In some areas of Pennsylvania, drinking water is contaminated, which causes serious health problems for nearby residents. Contaminants that may seep into soil and waterways and make it into residential water supplies include metals, such as mercury and lead, fertilizers and pesticides, chemicals like benzene, tetrachloroethylene, and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), and other volatile organic compounds (VOC).
  • Chemical exposure leading to injuries: Exposure to toxic chemicals, whether by water contamination, contact with toxic gas, or inhalation of hazardous particles, can lead to devastating illnesses and injuries. They include mesothelioma, asbestosis, aplastic anemia, Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, pneumoconiosis, interstitial lung disease, and many others.
  • Asbestos: Asbestos exposure can lead to lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other respiratory conditions. A diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually a strong toxic tort claim, as it is caused almost solely by asbestos exposure.
  • Mold: Toxic tort cases involving mold exposure have been filed by tenants, property owners, employees, building occupants, and local governments in Pennsylvania. Toxic exposure to mold may cause multiple health concerns in varying degrees of severity. Mild cases may produce responses similar to hay fever symptoms, including a runny nose, sore throat, and other minor problems like nausea, headache, and fatigue. More severe illnesses caused by mold exposure include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, sick-building syndrome, reactive airway dysfunction syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity, and toxic encephalopathy.

What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Toxic Tort Lawsuits In Pennsylvania?

Generally speaking, there is a two-year time limit for filing personal injury cases, including toxic tort claims, in Pennsylvania. In most cases, after this statute of limitations has passed, plaintiffs can no longer have their cases heard by the court. With most personal injury cases, the statute of limitations begins on the first date that an individual would have a cause of action or a reason to file a claim. For example, in a car crash case, the statute of limitations clock begins ticking at the time of the collision. However, with toxic tort claims, it may be challenging to determine when the cause of action date is.

A toxic tort case's cause of action date isn't necessarily when an illness or injury began. Instead, it is when the individual became aware of the injury or should have become aware of it. This may be the date an illness or injury is diagnosed, but it may not be in all situations. Because of this ambiguity, individuals who suspect their injuries are a result of exposure to a toxic substance must contact an experienced toxic tort attorney as soon as possible.

Do I Need A Toxic Tort Lawyer For My Personal Injury Lawsuit?

If you think that you suffered injuries because of exposure to harmful substances, your first step should be to consult with a toxic tort lawyer. The fact of the matter is that many toxic tort cases can be very complicated.

First, it must be proved that exposure to a dangerous substance caused the plaintiff's injury. Because exposure to hazardous toxins typically happens unintentionally, it can be challenging to identify the chemical or product that caused the injury or the source of the chemical or product. Tracing the injury to a specific product, substance, or exposure can be difficult because many side effects and injuries do not manifest until years after the initial exposure. Individuals encounter many substances throughout the years, so it can be challenging to trace an injury back to a specific substance.

Another issue that requires professional assistance from a toxic tort lawyer is determining who should be sued in the personal injury lawsuit. If a patient develops a serious health issue after taking a pharmaceutical drug, how can you decide which company manufactured the medication? If an industrial worker was exposed to asbestos at multiple jobs, how can you determine what companies made the asbestos-containing products to which the employee was exposed? If an individual becomes extremely ill from drinking water contaminated with dangerous chemicals, is it possible to figure out where and how the contaminants were leaked?

Toxic tort law involves complex legal matters and multiple parties. That's why attorneys litigating such cases typically sue all individuals and organizations that could have any association with the hazardous substance. This could include manufacturers, distributors, owners of locations where individuals were exposed to dangerous products or where dangerous products or chemicals were stored, companies in charge of storing the chemicals, and more.

If exposure to harmful substances or chemicals has caused severe injuries to you or a loved one, contact the experienced toxic tort attorneys at Ross Feller Casey for a free evaluation. The firm handles all its cases, including those involving toxic torts, on a contingency basis, so you will never be asked to pay a thing until a financial recovery is made.

About the Author

Jason W. Poore joined Ross Feller Casey in February 2021 and focuses his practice on representing clients who suffered catastrophic injuries due to medical malpractice, hospital negligence, defective products, and dangerous premises.

Jason Poore

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.