A toxic tort is a particular type of personal injury case involving exposure to a chemical or toxin that has caused medical injury. Because injuries in a toxic tort case might not occur immediately or be visible and the duration and amount of exposure may be unclear, they tend to be more complicated than other kinds of personal injury cases. Biomarkers that measure the effects of toxic exposure on the human body provide evidence of both cause and effect in these types of cases.
A plaintiff in a toxic tort case may have suffered health problems from exposure to one of the following:
• Contamination of groundwater or soil from dumping of wastes and chemicals
• Contamination of air or environment from release of noxious gases or toxins
• Mold (particularly black mold)
• Lead paint
A toxic tort case may be brought against a company that dumped pollutants in the groundwater, a manufacturer of asbestos, a landlord who didn’t make sure an apartment was free from mold or lead paint, or the manufacturer of a dangerous drug.
Causation One of the Biggest Hurdles in a Toxic Tort Case
The most challenging part of any toxic tort claim is proving and measuring damage suffered by the plaintiff and determining the cause of that damage. Proving cause may involve:
• Medical testimony from experts linking the toxin and the illness
• Evidence of the exposure
• A high incidence of similar illnesses in people who suffered similar exposure
• FDA or other product recalls or public warnings about the dangers of a product
How Do Biomarkers Measure Toxic Exposure?
Biomarkers are indicators of molecular changes in blood or tissue that can show an abnormal condition or disease. A biomarker can be measured and quantified, such as blood pressure, presence of certain chemicals in blood, or genetic mutations.
Outcomes of toxic tort cases frequently are based on measurement of biomarker data, which may reveal exposure to a toxin, such as cigarette smoke, benzene, and asbestos, and as well as aid in the diagnosis of disease caused by that exposure. In this way, biomarkers measure both cause and effect.
Cancer Biomarkers Indicate Genetic Damage
A cancer biomarker is a substance or process that will indicate the presence of cancer in the body. It may be a substance secreted by a tumor or a specific response of the body to the presence of the cancer, such as a genetic mutation.
Advances in gene sequencing has enabled plaintiffs to use their genetic information to show that they were exposed to certain toxins and that such exposure was “more likely than not” the cause of their illness. Gene expression biomarkers can not only show exposure to a certain toxin, in some cases they can also quantify the amount of exposure.
Results for genetic biomarkers can be provided within a day or two at a cost of a few hundred dollars. With continued gene research and increased accessibility to testing, genetic information will play a more dominant role in toxic tort litigation in years to come.
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