Area of Law:
A tort is a personal injury to an individual caused by the negligence, or carelessness, of another person. A toxic tort is an injury that resulted from contact with a toxic substance due to someone else's negligence, often an employer.
Some examples of toxic torts that may occur in Pennsylvania and the potential damage caused include:
- Lead paint, known to cause brain damage in children
- Asbestos, linked to mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other lung diseases
- Dry cleaning solvents, which have caused brain and major organ damage
- Pesticides such as DDT, blamed for the incidence of certain birth defects
- Electro-magnetic fields from utility wires and major appliances, a suspected cause of cancer
- Toxic landfill waste, linked to leukemia
- Certain pharmaceuticals such as DES, known to cause cervical cancer in offspring
- Exposure to mercury in drinking water, which may result in kidney and neurological damage
- Water contaminated with arsenic, known to cause circulatory problems and numerous complications for pregnant women and their babies
Many people who suffer a toxic tort injury are exposed at their workplace. If toxins are present in your place of work, your employer is obligated by law to provide all employees with information regarding dangerous materials. This information is usually provided by way of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which not only give information on products that may make contact with hazardous materials, but also on the chemicals themselves. Employers may also post warning labels or signs in areas where toxins may be present.
Some ways that employers can lessen the danger of exposure to toxins and lower their risk of having a toxic tort lawsuit filed against them include:
- Substitute the existing toxic process, material, or chemical with a safer one that provides similar benefits
- Isolate hazardous materials within a certain well-defined area of the workplace
- Provide adequate ventilation in all areas, specifically those where toxins may be present
- Require that employees wear protective clothing, personal ventilators, or masks to reduce exposure to toxins
Pennsylvania employees need to become informed of any potential toxins that may exist in their workplace. The website Open Jurist gives an overview of toxic tort law and court opinions in the state of Pennsylvania.