Those of us who love the outdoors, fresh air, clean water, and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, are usually very aware of the danger of exposure to toxins or dangerous chemicals. And so we may do a number of things to reduce our risk of exposure. But sometimes, we have no control over whether we are exposed to dangerous chemicals. For example, John Travolta’s 1999 movie, A Civil Action was based on the true story of 8 Woburn, Massachusetts families whose children and spouses contracted and died of leukemia after the local water was contaminated by W.R. Grace Co. Similarly, the movie, Erin Brockovich told the story of a legal assistant’s discovery that Pacific Gas & Electric had been poisoning the water supply in the town of Hinkley, California for 30 years. And, although it was never made into a movie, the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, dumped about 11 million gallons of oil into the water and devastated fishing communities.
The people who were exposed to these man-made disasters were severely injured or died.
Toxic Tort Litigation.
With the exception of claims covered exclusively by worker’s compensation, people who are exposed to and injured by toxins can seek redress through litigation and can usually recover damages through a personal injury case. These types of personal injury actions are called “toxic torts.” A toxic tort is a legal claim for harm caused by exposure to a dangerous substance like pesticides, asbestos, pharmaceutical drugs, black mold, oil spills, groundwater contamination, or any number of things.
What Happens if You Didn’t Realize You Were Exposed to Toxins?
A common issue in many toxic tort cases is that the injury (often in the form of a disease) doesn’t show up right away. For example, someone may be exposed to pesticide drift due to crop spraying, and may develop cancer, but it might not show up until 10 years after the initial event took place. Because most personal injury cases must be brought within 2 or 3 years (depending on your state’s statute of limitations) someone who does not find out until years later that he was exposed to a toxin which caused his injury, would not be able to sue the responsible party. To prevent this unfair result, the courts have developed a “discovery” principle. This principle prevents a plaintiff’s time to sue from starting to run until the plaintiff knew or should have known of his injury.
Causation. The Battle Begins.
Because of the delay between the damaging event and the plaintiff’s injury, not surprisingly, the battleground in many toxic tort cases is the issue of “causation.” The toxic tort plaintiff has to prove that his injury or illness was caused by the specific chemical used, manufactured or distributed by the defendant (depending on whether plaintiff’s theory is one of negligence or product liability) and not from some other cause, like exposure to some other chemical or drug, or smoking cigarettes.
Like they say, “it’s complicated.” That’s why you need competent counsel to guide you if you have been exposed, or believe you have been exposed to toxic substances.
Toxic Tort Attorneys.
If you or someone you love has been exposed to toxic chemicals or injured by pharmaceutical drugs, black mold or other toxins, we are here for you. Our personal injury attorneys in Washington and Oregon offer free consultations. Contact us by phone or email to set up your free consultation.