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Do Toxic Chemicals Fall under Product Liability?

Written by Berkowitz

toxic chemicals

The area of personal injury law is complex and involves multiple categories of injuries and situations that cause injuries. Typically, it means one party being injured by the actions or inactions of another. In most cases, it is easy to identify the at-fault party – like a rear-end collision in a car accident. Other times, it is not as obvious, such as when toxic chemicals cause injuries or illnesses.

Toxic torts are more complicated and often require the assistance of an attorney. Typically, the injuries or damages from toxic chemicals do not appear right away. Sometimes it can be months or years after the fact before someone realizes they are the victim of toxic exposure or harm.

What Is a Toxic Tort and How Does It Apply to Stamford Injury Cases?

Toxic torts are types of tort cases that involve a person being injured by exposure to a poisonous substance. These instances take many forms. Some examples of when a toxic tort might apply include:

  • Groundwater Contamination – Any time there is a contamination of groundwater or soil from leaking or dumping of toxic chemicals or toxic waste.
  • Air Contamination – Emitting toxic fumes or chemicals into the area, including noxious gases.
  • Workplace Exposure – Employers are required to protect employees from toxic chemicals in the workplace, even if those chemicals are used as part of the job.
  • Mold or Asbestos – Exposure to mold, mildew, or asbestos at work or home can lead to devastating results.
  • Lead Paint – Homes built before a specific year may have lead-based paint in the home. When you buy that home, the previous owner must disclose if there was a positive lead-based paint test.
  • Defective Medications – Sometimes, toxic substances make their way into prescription and over-the-counter medications – including accidentally putting too much of a harmful drug into the formulation.
  • Toxic Toys and Consumer Products – Other ways a person could be exposed to poisonous products is when a consumer product or toy contains harmful chemicals, such as toys painted with lead-based paint. These typically fall under product liability cases.

Common Toxic Substances used in Injury Cases

A claim for toxic chemicals or harm caused by a compound can come from the workplace, at home, a product, or a medication. Some of the more common poisonous substances that might lead to an injury lawsuit include:

  • Lead-based paint (may cause brain damage, mainly if a young child were to consume lead-based paint chips)
  • Dry cleaning products (can cause brain damage, organ failure, and respiratory illnesses)
  • Heavy cleaning solvents (can lead to brain damage or organ failure if ingested)
  • Asbestos (shown to cause lung cancer or lead to restrictive lung disease)
  • Pesticides (can lead to congenital disabilities)
  • Electromagnetic fields (can lead to cancer)
  • Toxic waste from landfills (may cause leukemia, cancer, and other syndromes)
  • DES and L-tryptophan (causes congenital disabilities and cancer)
  • Mercury or Arsenic (can cause organ damage, brain damage, and lead to death)

Is a Toxic Chemical Claim a Product Liability Case?

In some cases, a toxic chemical is a product liability claim while other times it falls under toxic torts. If a product contained a toxic chemical and you were exposed to that product with the compound, it would be a product liability case. A child’s toy made with harsh chemicals that cause brain damage would be a product liability case.

Groundwater contamination would be a toxic tort case because a product itself did not injure you.

A pesticide used for home insect extermination, but later is found dangerous, could be a product liability claim, primarily if the product is sold to consumers.

How Does Someone Prove They Were Injured by a Chemical?

As the plaintiff in a toxic tort case, you carry the burden of proof. That means you must show three critical factors:

  1. The substance was deemed dangerous. An everyday product that is not ordinarily dangerous does not qualify. Instead, you must show that the product or contamination involved a known harmful substance, toxin, or chemical.
  2. You were exposed to that substance. You must show that you were exposed to the substance, which typically requires laboratory testing.
  3. You were injured because of your exposure. You must have a connection between your injuries and damages and the exposure. If your illness stemmed from something other than the exposure, you would not qualify for compensation.

Sometimes, you do not realize that you are the victim of a toxic exposure right away, because some exposures take time before the symptoms manifest.

The bigger the time span between the time you realize you are the victim and the time the exposure occurred makes it harder to find evidence, collect records, and even find witnesses who can testify.

These issues alone make the discovery phase of a lawsuit difficult, and they can create significant time delays. More so, they make it difficult to prove that you have a claim for product liability or toxic tort.

What About the Statute of Limitations

Like all personal injury claims, there is a statute of limitations that you need to consider any time you have a liability claim against another person. This may become an issue if you do not realize that you are the victim of toxic exposure.

In Connecticut, you have a two-year limitation to file your claim. However, the courts may extend it because you have two years from the date you reasonably discovered the injury. Therefore, if you were exposed to a chemical substance but you did not realize that the cause of your injury or illness was from that exposure until one year after the fact, the court would consider the clock to have started from the date of discovery – giving you two years from that date.

If, however, you knew about the exposure, knew it was the cause, and waited past the two-year mark, the court can deny your case. Therefore, the chances of succeeding are minimal.

The Special Issues that Arise in a Toxic Chemical Product Liability Case

Every case is unique, and certain issues like the amount of toxicity, the type of toxin, and the way you were exposed all play a role in your claim. Some common problems that may arise include:

  • Proving Causation – By far, the most challenging hurdle is convincing the court that a product exposed you to a harsh chemical or toxin. It can be hard to trace the source of a chemical substance or toxic exposure, and numerous illnesses will not arise for months after the exposure occurs. You must also weed out the factors that could prove your illness came from other sources and then show that the product itself was the sole source of the toxin and no other potential sources existed.
  • Evidence Goes Stale – Even if you know that the product was toxic, you most likely will not discover that for a few months or years after the exposure. Most product liability lawsuits involving toxic chemicals find it challenging to get the evidence they need to prove their case. Documents from the manufacturer or retailer might be missing, the product itself could have been discarded, and witnesses are harder to locate.
  • Heavy Reliance on Scientific Evidence – A product liability case involving any type of toxin will rely heavily on scientific evidence to support the claim. That includes a study linking the substance noted to a disease or condition you have, scientific testing that shows the product had a harmful toxin or chemical, and studies proving that these chemicals are dangerous. Without any scientific evidence through studies, expert witnesses, and laboratory tests, it will be impossible to win your case.

Should You File a Lawsuit for a Toxic Product?

Determining who to hold liable and whether you should file a lawsuit in your toxic product case is complicated. You might not know who manufactured the dangerous product, or a third-party could have been responsible.

It is best to speak with an attorney and explore your options. An attorney will review the facts of your case and help decide who might be responsible. In product liability cases, generally, any party involved in the dangerous substance and the supply chain for that product could be named in your lawsuit. This might include:

  • The manufacturer or distributor of the chemical
  • The manufacturer or distributor who contaminated the product with the chemical
  • The quality assurance or quality control laboratory responsible for testing and ensuring the product was safe
  • A third party who created or sold a contaminated portion of the product
  • The retailer that sold the product
  • The wholesaler that stored the product, and during storage, the product became contaminated

In a product liability case, strict liability might apply. Strict liability means that the manufacturer owes a duty of care to the public before releasing their products to the consumer market. By not ensuring their product was safe, they are liable.

What Compensation Can I Receive?

The compensation value of your case depends on a variety of factors, which is why you need to speak with an attorney to explore your options. Generally, you can receive compensation for your damages and other intangible costs like your physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional suffering.

Some of the compensation you might receive could include:

  • Medical Costs: You might be compensated for your medical costs, including past and future costs that were a direct result from the injury (e.g., hospitalizations, treatments, prescriptions, surgeries, therapy, or rehabilitation).
  • Lost Wages: If the illness or injury you suffered keeps you from being able to work, you may also receive compensation for the time you took off work or any future earnings you have lost because of your illness.
  • Pain and Suffering: The physical and emotional pain of your illness is considered when you file a lawsuit.

Speak with an Attorney Today

If you suspect that you are the victim of toxic exposure from a consumer product, the next step is to speak with an attorney. In these types of cases, the sooner you talk with an attorney, the better. Because the longer you wait, the harder it will be to locate witnesses and the evidence necessary to prove your claim.

Contact Berkowitz Hanna today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Call 866-479-7909 or contact us online to get started.