Damages in Toxic Tort Cases

(Page 2 of 2 of Toxic Torts Overview)

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The types of damages available to plaintiffs in toxic tort cases might include compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys fees.

Compensatory Damages

These are the damages that reimburse the plaintiff for the cost of injuries or for any money spent as a result of the injuries. Compensatory damages include medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, compensation for pain and suffering, and loss of consortium (companionship). (To learn more about compensatory damages, see Nolo's article Damages in Defective Products Cases.)

Plaintiffs can also seek a type of damages unique to toxic tort cases -- compensation for medical monitoring. In medical monitoring, plaintiffs (usually in a class action lawsuit) exposed to a toxin are screened periodically in order to detect and provide early treatment for medical problems linked to the toxin. Courts are split as to whether medical monitoring damages can be awarded to people who show no sign of illness, or are limited to people who already exhibit symptoms of the disease. Either way, medical monitoring damages are set up in one of two ways: through a fund that plaintiffs can dip into as costs arise, or as a lump-sum payment intended to cover any future medical monitoring costs.

Punitive Damages

The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant. These damages are generally only available in toxic tort cases if the defendant's conduct was especially egregious or outrageous.

Injunctive Relief

Plaintiffs in toxic tort cases may be able to get an injunction, which is an order prohibiting the defendant from taking certain actions (the marketing of a harmful product, for example).

Attorneys' Fees

In most lawsuits, each side pays its own attorneys' fees. However, some statutes specifically state that a defendant must pay a plaintiff's attorneys' fees in certain situations. For example, in the realm of toxic torts, many environmental cleanup statutes allow plaintiffs to recover their attorneys' fees from defendants.

Getting Help

Claims involving toxic torts are usually not the kind of lawsuits in which you can represent yourself effectively. The legal and scientific issues in such cases are often complex and sophisticated. Depending on your case, you may wish to retain the services of a lawyer who specializes in toxic tort litigation or the precise toxin at issue.

You may also want to consult with a lawyer to find out if there is an existing class action lawsuit regarding the specific chemical or drug that concerns you, and if so, whether it is advisable for you to join that class action. (If there is an existing class action, consider contacting the lawyers for the class directly; they will likely be very interested in talking with you.) Such initial consultations are usually free of charge.

For help in choosing a good personal injury attorney, read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to find out about the lawyer's experience, if any, with toxic tort litigation).

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