Environmental & Toxic Exposure Lawsuits

Toxic exposure to substances that are known or suspected of causing harm may result in serious injury, permanent disability or even death. Seeger Weiss attorneys have helped victims of toxic exposure obtain compensation from employers or other corporations to help cover medical costs, pain and suffering and other damages.

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Lawsuits involving environmental and toxic exposure encompass a wide range of chemicals and substances that cause harm to human beings. Individuals can bring lawsuits or other claims based upon injury resulting from exposure that occurs in the workplace, at home, outdoors, or anywhere else. The laws governing claims for environmental and toxic exposure are complex and it is important to be familiar with them and the potential claims you may have if you are injured.

What is Environmental and Toxic Exposure?

It most commonly results from inhalation or contact with the skin and may be caused by air pollution, water contamination, hazardous materials, chemical fumes, and residues.

Common Types of Toxic Exposure

  • Asbestos – Asbestos is a natural mineral found in soil and rocks but was commonly used in construction materials up until the 1970s and is still contained in various other products.
  • Lead Poisoning – Although lead is a natural metal found in the earth, it is toxic and human exposure can cause severe health problems. Cumulative exposure to lead affects multiple organs in the body and is especially harmful to children because it only takes a small amount to cause health problems. Lead was used in paint through the 1970s and is still permitted in small amounts in some products today.
  • Oil Spills – Oil spills are not just harmful to the environment; they create toxic fumes that permeate the air. Oil is a mixture of toxic chemical compounds that are harmful when inhaled and can cause cancer and other illnesses.
  • Chemicals – A variety of chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals used in food production can be toxic when inhaled or if they touch the skin.
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – This generally occurs in the home because of leakage from a variety of sources, including, gas stoves, furnaces, gas and water heaters, or even fumes from spray paint or paint remover.
  • Water Pollution – Water can become contaminated from numerous sources, including pesticides or other chemicals from agricultural soil run-offs, discharges of mercury, lead pipes, or other dangerous chemicals from power plants.
  • Air Pollution – Residential communities can be exposed to a variety of toxic air pollutants that are released from dry cleaners, gas stations, small metal plating operations and landfill sites.
  • Soil Contamination – Contaminated soil is dangerous to human beings when there is direct contact with skin or through inhalation of toxic chemicals that may be in the soil.

Environmental and Toxic Exposure Laws

There are numerous federal and state laws that govern environmental and toxic chemical exposure. Some of the most important laws are explained below.

Federal Laws

Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (“TSCA”) – This law regulates chemicals that are manufactured, used, distributed and disposed of within the United States. It was enacted to prevent the unreasonable risk of injury to the public health or the environment from chemicals that are regulated by the law.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – This law was passed in 2016 by President Obama, to amend the TSCA, and grant more power to the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to protect the public from toxic chemicals. The new law includes:

  • A mandatory requirement that the EPA evaluate chemicals within clear and enforceable deadlines.
  • Increased transparency for the public regarding chemical information.
  • A requirement that the EPA conduct risk-based assessments of chemicals.
  • Consistent EPA funding to enable it to perform its duties under the new law.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) – This law regulates the registration and licensing of pesticides before they can be manufactured, used, or sold in the United States. Under FIFRA, the EPA is required to register pesticides and ensure the chemicals will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.

The Occupational Safety & Health Act (“OSHA”) – Passed in 1970, OSHA requires that employers provide a safe workplace for their employees. One important aspect of this law relates to the workplace environment and provides that employers must inform employees if hazardous chemicals or toxins are present.

  • How Will I Know if Toxic Chemicals are Present? – Employers generally provide Material Safety Data Sheets (“MSDS”) that delineate the type of chemical and procedures for its use. Warning signs may also be posted.
  • What if I Do Not Know if I Was Exposed to Toxic Chemicals? If you are unsure whether toxic chemicals are in your workplace, it is important to ask your employer for MSDS sheets and read labels on any substances being used. Also, seek medical treatment for any side effects. Finally, follow any internal workplace procedures, file a complaint with OSHA, and possibly consult an attorney if you believe there is an OSHA violation.
  • What Agency Administers OSHA? – The EPA is not responsible for this Act, but rather, it is administered by the United States Department of Labor, along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. There are also state agencies that enforce workplace safety and health issues.
  • Federal Employees Compensation Act (“FECA”)- This law provides compensation and other benefits to federal employees who are injured or become ill on the job. If you are a federal employee and suffer illness or injury due to toxic exposure, it is important to consult the FECA provisions.

State Laws

Most states have laws regulating the use of some environmental pollutants, including chemicals. State laws vary widely in the type of regulations provided. Some states only regulate air or water pollution levels, while others have legal requirements for certain chemicals, including licensing and registration. It is important to be familiar with the relevant laws in your state if you decide to file a lawsuit for toxic exposure to chemicals.

State Workers’ Compensation Laws

If you become injured while on the job, you will typically be eligible to file a Workers’ Compensation claim in your state. It is important to consult the law in your state, but most Workers’ Compensation laws provide the following benefits.

  • Medical Care
  • Income Replacement (Generally a percentage)
  • Rehabilitation or Re-training Expenses
  • Compensation for Permanent Injuries

Who Is Covered by State Workers’ Compensation Laws?

Most categories of employees are covered, but states typically have some exclusions, including:

  • Independent Contractors
  • Farm Workers
  • Maritime Employees
  • Private Home Workers
  • Volunteers
  • Railroad Employees

Who Can File an Environmental and Toxic Exposure Lawsuit?

Any individual who can establish that he or she has been injured by exposure to a toxic chemical or other environmental hazard, can file a lawsuit. The claim is typically based upon the negligence of an individual or entity, resulting in personal injury. If the injury happens in the course of employment, however, different standards apply.

Employees

Workers’ Compensation Claims

When employees are injured in the workplace, they are generally limited to filing a workers’ compensation claim, which is not based upon the fault of the employer. Employees are not permitted to file a separate lawsuit for damages unless certain exceptions are met, including third party liability or intentional acts by the employer.

OSHA Violation

If there is a violation of OSHA, the employee may also file a complaint under that law. OSHA covers most private sector and some public sector employers and employees.

Common Environmental and Toxic Exposure Workplace Injuries

Employees in all professions can potentially be exposed to toxins in their workplace, but those who work in manufacturing plants, mines or on construction sites are most vulnerable. Still, even office employees can suffer the ill effects of chemical exposure, particularly if their workplace is not properly ventilated.

How Does Toxic Chemical Exposure Occur in the Workplace?

Employees Who Work with Dangerous Chemicals

In the workplace, an employee may be exposed to toxic chemicals that he or she works with daily, particularly if the employee is not wearing adequate protective equipment. Even with protective gear, some chemical exposure can occur. In addition, not all chemicals result in immediate health injury, so it may take years to discover that an employee was harmed. Examples of toxic exposure can occur in a variety of workplace settings, including the following.

  • Manufacturing of High-Tech Electronics – Production workers in manufacturing plants where electronic equipment is assembled, are exposed to a variety of hazardous substances, including solvents, acids, metals, gases, plastics, and fiberglass.
  • Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company – OSHA cited an Ohio musical instrument manufacturer for exposing employees to unsafe levels of toxic copper dust.
  • Indoor Gun Range – A Texas indoor gun range was cited by OSHA for violations when employees were exposed to unsafe levels of airborne lead, as well as surface contamination. The company failed to replace damaged personal protective equipment and monitor employees for lead-related illnesses they suffered.

Office Workers

Employees who work in offices may experience poorly ventilated rooms and what is commonly known as “sick building syndrome” in office buildings. Sick building syndrome generally occurs when there is inadequate ventilation and air fails to circulate properly. There are many different potential causes, including the following:

  • Chemicals from Cleaning Products
  • Formaldehyde (Found in Wood Furniture and Floors)
  • High Levels of Dust Particles
  • Mold or Fungus

How Does Toxic Chemical Exposure Occur in Residential Areas?

Residents in an apartment building or suburban neighborhood may be exposed to a variety of hazardous chemicals or fumes. Exposure to lead, asbestos materials or carbon monoxide are common injuries that residents may experience. 

Common Environmental and Toxic Exposure Injuries in Residential Areas

Lead Exposure

How Can I Suffer Lead Exposure?

Lead is a common source of environmental contamination in residential areas due to the plethora of products that contain lead. Lead fumes and dust are odorless, so it is difficult to know whether you are inhaling lead particles. Examples of products that may contain lead include the following.

  • Lead Paint – Although banned in the United States in 1978, older buildings may still have it.
  • Leaded Gasoline – Inhalation of leaded gasoline fumes can cause unhealthy lead exposure.
  • Toys – Older toys or toys manufactured in other countries may contain lead paint. In addition, lead is not banned in plastics.
  • Cosmetics – Certain unregulated cosmetics may contain lead particles.
  • Lead Pipes – Drinking water that flows through lead insulated pipes can cause lead poisoning.

What Are the Symptoms of Lead Exposure?

Symptoms of lead exposure can be difficult to diagnose, and often do not appear until more dangerous amounts of lead accumulate. Higher levels of exposure in adults can cause anemia, kidney, and brain damage. Death can also result. Children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning, since it takes just a small amount to cause harm.

Adults

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Headache
  • Loss of Memory
  • Weakness
  • Pain or Tingling in the Hands and/or Feet

Children

  • Developmental Delay
  • Learning Difficulties
  • Hearing Loss
  • Seizures
  • Weight Loss

Asbestos Exposure

Residents can be exposed to asbestos through building materials that are part of the home or from latent exposure to family members who once worked with asbestos and brought home particles on their clothing. Asbestos health injury can take years to develop, so even though asbestos is not as widely used, health effects may manifest themselves decades later.

What Are the Effects of Asbestos Exposure?

Mesothelioma

One of the most serious health effects from asbestos contact is mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of several internal organs in the body, including the lungs, abdominal cavity, and heart. There is no safe amount of asbestos and even a brief exposure can result in mesothelioma or other asbestos related illnesses.

Other Illnesses

Asbestos can also cause the following:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Asbestosis-This is a chronic respiratory disease that is like pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Laryngeal Cancer

Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is odorless and colorless, making it a particularly dangerous toxin, especially in the home when sleeping. When carbon monoxide gets in the air and you inhale it, your body replaces the oxygen that is in your red blood cells, with carbon monoxide.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure can include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Irreversible Brain Damage

Toxic Mold Exposure

Mold is a common toxin in buildings and homes, and typically grows in moist areas such as roofs, windows, or pipes, as well as in drywall, insulation, flooring, and wallpaper. Fortunately, mold is a toxin that can be seen and removed if it is found before it causes serious health issues.

Symptoms of mold exposure can include:

  • Upper Respiratory Tract Symptoms (including cough, stuffy nose, and wheezing)
  • Aggravation of Asthma
  • Development of Asthma in Children

How Can I File a Toxic and Environmental Exposure Lawsuit?

If you believe that you or someone you know was exposed to any toxic substance, there are important steps you should follow.

Employment Related Injuries

  • Workers’ Compensation Claim Only – If you suffer exposure from toxic chemicals while on the job, you must file a Workers’ Compensation claim. These claims are not based upon fault, and you can only recover lost compensation, medical bill reimbursement and benefits for permanent impairment, if any. You are precluded from filing a personal injury lawsuit unless a third party other than your employer is at fault, or your employer acts intentionally to injure you.
  • Third Party Lawsuits – Employees who are injured in the workplace may have a claim against a third party if that individual or entity was negligent.
  • Intentional Act of Employer – Another exception is if the employer injures an employee due to an intentional act. In this circumstance, the employee can sue for damages for pain and suffering.
  • OSHA Violation – An employee who believes that his or her employer has created an unsafe workplace through the use of toxic chemicals, can file a complaint using this form, https://www.osha.gov/pls/osha7/eComplaintForm.html

Non-employment Related Injuries

  • Seek Medical Treatment – If you have any health issues that you believe are caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, seeking medical treatment will document your injury and may help to determine the origin of your symptoms.
  • Consult an Attorney – If you want to file a lawsuit you should consult with an attorney experienced in environmental and toxic exposure lawsuits. Since the time limitations to file personal injury claims are generally short, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible.
  • Contact the EPA – Other than filing a lawsuit, if you witness a violation of any environmental law, including toxic chemical exposure, you can contact the EPA through its website at https://echo.epa.gov/report-environmental-violations. There you can complete a form providing your contact information, or you may exercise the option to remain anonymous.

What Do I Need to Prove My Personal Injury Claim?

To establish a claim of toxic exposure that is unrelated to employment, you will need to show the following:

  • Injury – It is important to seek medical treatment for any potential exposure to toxic chemicals, so that injury is documented.
  • Causation – The most important element of proof is establishing causation, or a connection, between your health symptoms and a specific toxic substance or chemical.
  • Damages – Injuries resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals include, medical costs, loss of wages and earning capacity, and long-term physical impairment or disability.
  • Legal Obligation to Compensate – You must show that some individual or entity is liable for compensating you for your injury.

Seeger Weiss LLP Environmental and Toxic Exposure Cases

Since 1999, we have won or favorably settled thousands of toxic exposure cases on behalf of our clients and their families, providing them with the support and guidance they need and making sure they receive the compensation they deserve.

Toxic Drywall Settlement

What Happened?

Seeger Weiss LLP represented close to 5,000 U.S. property owners against German company Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, a worldwide distributor of drywall manufactured in China. Many of the plaintiffs were rebuilding their homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, only to discover that their new drywall was toxic.

How Much Did Plaintiffs Get?

As Lead Trial Counsel, the firm obtained successful verdicts in a succession of bellwether trials, or test cases, that were part of a multidistrict litigation, leading to a national settlement valued at about $1 billion.

Toxic Emissions Settlement

What Happened?

Seeger Weiss LLP, represented a massive class of nearly 600,000 consumers against automaker Volkswagen (VW), which equipped some of its Audi, Porsche and VW diesel vehicles in the U.S. with software designed to cheat emissions testing, polluting the environment at levels up to 40 times higher than registered.

How Much Did Plaintiffs Get?

Working in conjunction with United States government agencies, including the EPA, Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, Seeger Weiss LLP served on the plaintiffs’ steering and settlement committees and as one of the lead negotiators. Seeger Weiss LLP helped recover a $21 billion corporate settlement, the largest in history. It included a massive buyback program for consumers, environmental remediation, and investment in green vehicle technology. The firm continues to represent plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation.

Contact Seeger Weiss LLP

Please keep in mind that you only have a limited amount of time to file a toxic exposure claim, as most states have a short statute of limitations. If you or a loved one have suffered injury, loss of income or other wrong, please contact our firm directly by calling 877-912-2668.

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