An Overview on Toxic Torts Law

When injury was caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals

By Super Lawyers staff | Last updated on June 12, 2020

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You may be familiar with movies that depict class action lawsuits after people were harmed by chemicals in water or prescription medications. These cases are a special type of personal injury lawsuit called toxic torts, and they can be pursued by a single person or a group of people who suffered negative effects from exposure to dangerous substances—whether it happened  at home or work, or from the water supply.

This overview is designed to help you understand the basics of bringing a toxic torts case, as well as examples of chemicals and diseases commonly involved in these cases. Toxic torts cases can be complicated, and some elements are difficult to prove. This overview will help you evaluate whether you want to seek the assistance of a lawyer or not.


When you’re injured by the actions of someone else, you may be able to bring a personal injury case. This is a broad area of law that covers everything from car accidents to mesothelioma. When your personal injury case arises because you were injured from exposure to dangerous chemicals, you may have a toxic torts case. 

Proving a Case

Proving your case can vary by state and specific case, but generally you need to show that the substance was dangerous, you were exposed to it, and that exposure caused your injuries. Exposure can happen at work or at home, and you might also be exposed to dangerous chemicals through medications or other consumer products. You may choose to prove your case using negligence, strict liability or fraud.


To prove a case based on negligence, you will need to show that the responsible party owed you a duty to provide you a safe environment or make products that don’t harm people. You will also need to show that that party breached their duty by acting recklessly or carelessly, which caused you harm. A judge or jury will look at what a reasonable person would have done in the same or similar situation.

Strict liability

Some toxic torts are better proved using strict liability, which doesn’t require you to show the other party was reckless or careless. In these cases, you will be able to use the fact that there was a defect with a product to show that the other party breached their duty. This is usually the preferred legal theory when you were harmed by a prescription drug or something similar.


You might consider making an argument about fraud if you believe that the other party knew the substance that harmed you was dangerous, and concealed the danger or used misleading statements suggesting that the substance was safe. In these cases, it will be necessary to show that the other party had a legal obligation to disclose hazards.

In every case, causation will be the most difficult element to prove because effects of exposure to toxic substances can often take years or even decades to manifest. The other party will likely try to argue that your injuries were not caused by their products or on their premises, and were instead caused by an intervening cause.


Because the effects of exposure can take so long to become obvious, it can be difficult to identify what chemical caused your injuries or illness. Some examples of chemicals involved in toxic tort cases include:

  • Nerve agents
  • Mercury
  • Asbestos
  • Pesticides
  • Silica

There are also some diseases that are commonly caused by exposure to dangerous substances. If you are diagnosed with any of these, you may want to investigate whether you were ever exposed to a toxic chemical:

  • Asbestosis or mesothelioma
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma

Common Questions

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. Can I sue for chemical exposure?
  2. What is a mass tort action? 
  3. How do I join a class action to sue for my injuries?
  4. How do I know what chemical caused my injuries?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory, and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a personal injury lawyer with experience handling toxic torts. 

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

Because it can be hard to identify the cause of your injury or where you were exposed to harmful chemicals, it will be helpful for you to speak with an experienced attorney. Lawyers will be able to look at your medical and work historues to help you identify when and where you were exposed to toxic substances. They will also be able to obtain necessary documents from your employer, doctor or landlord to help you prove your case, and they can help you interview potential witnesses.

A lawyer will further be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them, as well as keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies—giving you one less thing to worry about.

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