Earlier this year, a Florida court ruled in favor of the defendants in a major toxic tort suit, Pinares et al vs. Raytheon Technologies. The case alleged that toxic chemicals in the groundwater surrounding the defendant’s manufacturing facility caused nearby residents to suffer kidney cancer.
The defendants prevailed as it could not be proven that the alleged exposure caused this specific cancer. The ruling emphasized that flawed scientific claims cannot be used to prove toxic torts.
This recent example of a toxic tort raises the question of how defendants in toxic tort cases can present their side of the story in an effective manner so they can prevail at trial.
Defining a toxic tort
First, it is important to understand what a toxic tort is. Torts in general are actions (or the failure to act) that cause someone to suffer harm.
Toxic torts, specifically, allege that the defendant is responsible for exposing the plaintiff to a dangerous substance, causing the plaintiff to suffer direct harm. Many toxic tort lawsuits are class actions or adjudicated via multidistrict litigation.
Defending against a toxic tort
Facing a toxic tort claim is serious, but there are defenses. You might argue that the harm suffered was not directly caused by you. After all, certain diseases can be attributed to many causes. Who can say if the disease suffered was directly caused your actions?
A plaintiff’s failure to bring the claim within the applicable statute of limitations is another defense in a toxic tort case. The statute of limitations is the period of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations argument can be tricky, as many states say the clock starts ticking when the harm was or should have been discovered.
Toxic torts are serious lawsuits that can cost a business a great deal of money and suffer irreparable harm to its reputation. To avoid such consequences, businesses facing a toxic tort will want to employ all applicable defenses that poke holes in the prosecution’s claims and ultimately lead to a summary judgment in favor of the defendant or a dismissal of the case altogether.