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Toxic Torts: An Introduction

A tort is “a civil wrong that the law recognizes as deserving a remedy.” [1] The tort system holds a tortfeaser, or party who committed a civil wrong, responsible for providing monetary compensation to the injured party. [1]

With the definition of tort in mind, a toxic tort is one where the civil wrong committed involves toxic exposure. [1] Toxic tort related personal injuries can come about from a variety of ways ranging from exposure to mold, asbestos, harmful chemical compounds or elements, or ingestion of pharmaceuticals that have not been properly tested before being released to the public. [2] In this article, examples will be given as to some typical toxic tort cases.

Perhaps the most famous example of a successful toxic tort An introduction to toxic torts case was one made against Pacific Gas & Electric. Legal Clerk Erin Brockovich and tort attorney Edward L. Masry helped residents of Hinkley California seek justice against PG&E when it was found that their tap water had been contaminated with hexavalent chromium (chromium 6). From 1952 to 1966 hexavalent chromium was used by PG&E to limit corrosion in cooling tower water, the water was then sent to unlined ponds, whereupon the cancer causing compound leached into the groundwater supply leading to contamination of the town’s drinking water. [3] Upon taking PG&E to court, Brockovich and Masry won $333 million in damages for the residents of Hinkley. [4]

Additionally, there have been several cases against Monsanto and DOW chemical (as well as many other companies) made by both Vietnamese and US victims of dioxin exposure due to the use of Agent Orange as a defoliant during the Vietnam War. Probably the earliest case being the class action lawsuit filed by Victor Yannacone in 1979. Yannacone represented war veterans against the biggest manufacturers of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War: DOW Chemical, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal, T.H. Agriculture and Nutrition, Thompson Chemical and Hercules. [5]

Another Toxic tort example includes the lengthy and ongoing “mass litigation” of Asbestos manufacturers. Approximately 730,000 people have sued 8,400+ companies in response to personal damages related to the negative health effects of asbestos exposure. Manufacturers of Asbestos containing products failed to educate workers on how to protect themselves from inhaling asbestos fibers which can lead to cancer, lung disease, chest wall abnormalities and many other issues. More than $70 billion has been spent on asbestos related toxic tort litigation, with future claims expected. [6]

Plenty of pharmaceutical companies have been brought to litigation for personal damages, Zoloft, Celebrex, Vioxx, and Paxil to name a few. [2] Recently, manufacturers of Accutane have been under fire for failing to warn users of the potential for IBD and ulcerative colitis. [7]

These are just a few examples from the growing list of toxic tort cases. However, as long as a plaintiff can prove their personal damages were caused by a harmful substance, then there are grounds for a successful toxic tort case.


  1. Environmental Health Law : An Introduction; Carruth, Russellyn S., Goldstein, Bernard D.; John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated; December 2013
  2. http://www.environmentallawyers.com/toxic-tort/toxic-tort-claims-help.htm
  3. http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/rwqcb6/water_issues/projects/pge/index.shtml
  4. http://www.brockovich.com/my-story/
  5. Agent Orange Megatrial; Reaves, Lynne; ABA Journal. May 84, Vol. 70 Issue 5, p. 27; Article
  6. Asbestos Litigation; Future Survey. Dec 2005, Vol. 27 Issue 12, p22-22. 1/3p; Article
  7. Accutane litigation proliferates; Correy Stephenson Edition; Article; Lawyers USA, Mar 7, 2012; ProQuest Research Library