Toxic Torts: Not Just for Big Business
Written by Kristin Lausten
When people hear about “toxic tort litigation,” most people envision giant companies, massive oil and chemical spills, and hordes of class action claimants. However, toxic torts are not limited to big businesses. Toxic torts have a large impact on small businesses, too. Toxic substances are strewn throughout the workplace and marketplace ecosystem. Surviving a claim for toxic torts can make or break a small business’ success.
What are Toxic Torts and Recoverable Damages?
Generally speaking, there are three broad categories of toxic torts: environmental contamination, general exposure of the public to hazardous substances and industrial accidents, and injuries and illnesses to workers involving hazardous or toxic substances. These correspond to property damage, harm to the public, and harm to your workers. Generally, we think of oil spills, asbestos and events like rail-car explosions.
A plaintiff can recover any and all damages that flow from the actions that led to the contamination, the exposure, or the accident. These include compensation for damages to:
- Real property (environmental cleanup and remediation)
- Tangible non-living property (destruction of automobiles and other assets)
- Destruction/injury to livestock and other animals
- Physical injuries to persons (medical bills for current and future treatment)
- Mental injuries to persons (including emotional distress and fear of future illness)
- Economic damages to persons (lost wages, etc.)
- Economic damages to business (lost profits, loss of use, etc.)
These are the types of litigation damages that can bankrupt a small business (or a business of any size).
Everyday Chemicals and Small Business
Everyday chemicals used in businesses are toxic and can lead to litigation if someone is injured or property damage occurs. In a famous case from New Jersey, a court held that a regular customer of a beauty parlor could recover for injuries to her scalp caused by repeated exposures to chemicals used for hair treatments. See Newmark v. Gimbel’s Incorporated, 54 N.J. 585, 258 A. 2d 697 (1969).
Louisiana cases have reached the same result. For example, in Giamanco v. Epe, Inc., 619 So. 2d 842 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1993), the plaintiff, Mrs. Giamanco went to a Fantastic Sam’s beauty parlor for a perm/body wave. But several days later, her hair began to mat and fall out. Efforts were made to fix the problem, but Mrs. Giamanco’s hair continued to mat, fall out, break off, and produce an offensive odor. Mrs. Giamanco sued and obtained a jury verdict in her favor. She recovered specific damages for damage to her hair and also emotional distress damages.
A toxic tort lawsuit may result from factors other than the chemicals that you may be using at your workplace. Sending your employees into a potentially hazardous location can generate toxic tort claims. For example, in the case of Schaefer v. Texas Employment Insurance Association, 612 SW 2d 199 (Tex. 1980), an employee of a plumbing business was required to crawl under houses and similar places, where he contracted a rare infection. He claimed that his job exposed him to toxic and hazardous substances. Mr. Schaefer ultimately lost, but his case is illustrative of how small business are impacted by toxic tort litigation.
Other Legal Issues Related to Toxic Substances
Experienced toxic tort defense attorneys have the experience and the wherewithal to help with other legal issues related to toxic substances. Some of those issues are:
- Sale of toxic or hazardous substances
- Real estate remediation of contamination
All of these create the need for legal review of contracts, obtaining permits from local, state and federal agencies, maintaining insurance and corporate filings, regulatory compliance, etc.
Contact an Experienced Louisiana Toxic Tort Defense Lawyer
Need assistance? Have questions? Contact Kristin M. Lausten. Our legal team defends toxic tort cases in both state and federal courts throughout Louisiana. We use state-of-the art technology and maintain relationships with a broad range of scientific and legal experts who are needed for defending toxic tort cases.
In addition, we provide legal consultation and planning so that you can decrease your risks of being sued for torts related to toxic substances.
The author may be contacted at:
Kristin M. Lausten
New Orleans, Louisiana
This article is provided as an educational service for general informational purposes only. The material does not constitute legal advice or rendering of professional services.