Like most toxic tort actions, silica lawsuits can be brought on behalf of one injured person or on behalf of a group of people who have similar legal claims against the same defendants (for example, workers in a particular factory). This latter form of lawsuit is called a class action.
In recent years, a few states (like Ohio) have enacted laws that set medical eligibility guidelines for people who want to file a lawsuit over exposure to silica. In these states, workers whose health problems are not severe enough under the eligibility guidelines may have to wait until their health worsens before they can bring a lawsuit for silica exposure.
Plaintiffs in silica lawsuits can use a number of legal theories to prove that an employer, manufacturer, or some other company is liable for injuries caused by silica exposure. Two of the more common liability theories are negligence and products liability. (To learn more about these and other possible claims in toxic tort cases, see Nolo's article Toxic Torts: Legal Theories of Liability.)
In a lawsuit for injuries, a defendant can be found negligent for failing to use ordinary or reasonable care in dealing with the plaintiff. For example, in a silica case, a group of workers (the plaintiffs) might allege that their employer (the defendant) was careless when it allowed employees to be exposed to excessive amounts of silica dust on the job. The claim might revolve around the employer's failure to take proper safety precautions to protect workers from inhaling silica dust. As evidence of negligence, plaintiffs in the lawsuit could point to the employer's failure to adhere to OSHA guidelines on workplace safety. Plaintiffs might also introduce evidence that levels of airborne silica dust found at the workplace exceeded OSHA's minimum safety standards.
In silica exposure cases, negligence claims can also be based on the failure to give proper warnings of safety risks. For example, workers might allege that a manufacturer of a product containing silica (such as blasting sand) did not act reasonably when it failed to warn employers and employees that the product contained silica and that silica is dangerous when inhaled. This theory might be especially effective in lawsuits by workers who became sick after being exposed to silica in previous decades, when the dangers of silica were not well known or typically made public.
In a silica exposure injury claim based on a products liability theory, plaintiffs allege that a product containing silica is dangerous or that the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions on safe use of the product. In these claims, plaintiffs typically sue the manufacturer and distributor of the product.
Plaintiffs can also use products liability claims against manufacturers of safety equipment. For example, if a ventilator is defective and fails to protect workers from inhalation of silica dust, the workers could sue the manufacturer of the ventilator. (To learn more about types of product liability claims and what a plaintiff must prove to be successful, see Nolo's Product Liability FAQ.)
Claims involving silica exposure 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 products liability, workplace toxins, or other types of silica litigation.
You may also want to consult with a lawyer to find out if there is an existing silica exposure class action lawsuit related to your specific circumstances and, if so, whether it is advisable for you to join that class action. (If there is an already 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 silica cases).
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