A cancer diagnosis is scary, sometimes devastating. But it is all the more so if your cancer might have been caused by exposure to a toxic chemical in your home, air, or water. There is a true sense of violation and betrayal when a cancer victim realizes that her illness might have been caused, for example, by the careless dumping of industrial chemicals by a company in her neighborhood. It may even be a company where the cancer victim herself, or a family member, worked for many years.
What should she do to find out if the company—the neighborhood polluter– caused her cancer? And beyond that, how can she find out if she has a toxic tort lawsuit against the polluter for her cancer?
To get answers to these questions, you will need to find an environmental lawyer who handles these kinds of cases—called “toxic exposure” cases. Here are some of the critical questions that an experienced toxic tort lawyer will explore:
- Is there medical evidence that says that the victim’s type of cancer is connected to exposure to the toxic chemical that the polluter dumped, poured or spilled into the environment? The truth is that not all cancers in the vicinity of a polluter can be proven to have been caused by exposure to the polluter’s chemicals. In fact, most usually cannot be, sometimes none can. What is necessary to a potentially winning toxic exposure case is that there be good medical evidence linking exposure to that chemical to the victim’s specific cancer. For example: Do medical studies show that exposure to TCE can cause cervical cancer? Usually, that evidence comes in the form of medical studies; but sometimes it can come from the informed opinion of a scientific expert if there are no studies. An attorney experienced in such cases will know where to search for the medical studies and experts who can provide this critical evidence.
- Was there enough exposure to the toxic chemical to cause the victim’s cancer? Generally, small doses of even a toxic chemical, or doses experienced over only a short period of time, do not cause serious illness, such as cancer. (There are some exceptions.) Usually, the exposure must be prolonged. Therefore, what becomes important is for a careful analysis to be done of the victim’s exposure. This includes an understanding of the chemical to which she was exposed; where she was exposed—at home, school, work, etc.; how she was exposed—drinking, bathing, breathing; and for how long. The victim’s age(s) at which she was exposed can also be quite important. While a thorough exploration of this factor is beyond the scope of this blog, suffice it to say that childhood exposures are usually far more damaging than adult exposures, and therefore shorter duration exposures may cause serious illness in children whereas they would not have in adults. Ultimately, whether there was enough exposure to cause the victim’s cancer will be a collaborative effort between the lawyer and a qualified scientist.
- Is there still time enough to file a legal claim? Every state has a “statute of limitations”—which is a specific number of years, that can vary widely from state to state—within which the legal claim must be filed, or lost forever. Because of the often significant passage of time from exposure to the toxic chemical and diagnosis, and then sometimes an additional passage of years between diagnosis and the victim’s suspicion that her cancer may have been caused by the exposure, the question of whether there is still time enough to file a claim is often a major concern.
- Is the polluter (or other financially responsible company or person) still around, and financially viable? Toxic exposure cases are very expensive and time-consuming to litigate; jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs in such cases can run in the millions of dollars if the injuries are serious. As a result, no one would ever want to file a claim in a toxic exposure case against a company or person who did not have the financial resources to pay the plaintiff if she receives a large award from a jury. The financial viability of companies and people responsible for chemical contamination can often be investigated before a legal claim is even filed.
As you can see, these questions are not only important, but finding the right answers to them can be complicated. That’s why, if you or a loved one is ever in the unfortunate situation of trying to find out if your cancer was caused by exposure to a toxic chemical, you should quickly consult an environmental lawyer who has experience in finding answers to these questions.
The lawyers at The Collins Law Firm have been helping people with these kinds of toxic tort cases for nearly 20 years. If you want answers, please contact us at 630-527-1595 for a FREE evaluation of your case.