The Threat of Toxic Torts

By Ruskin, William A. | Management Review, June 1990 | Go to article overview

The Threat of Toxic Torts


Ruskin, William A., Management Review


You are a manager at a manufacturing company. While driving to work one morning, you hear on the radio that a large chemical spill at the company's key production facility has leaked hazardous chemicals into the ground. You arrive before 8:00 a.m. to find a note on your desk requesting your immediate presence in the CEO's office. Me executive suite bustles with activity. A camera crew from a local television station is camped outside the CEO's door. Inside the boardroom, the general counsel, the vice president of production, and the directors of government, public relations, and safety and health are huddled in an emergency meeting.

Because the middle-class community surrounding the plant has always been outspoken on environmental issues, numerous politicians-including the governor have already registered their alarm by telephone and fax.

Nonetheless, the situation could be worse. Preliminary reports indicate that the contamination has been confined within the facility's fence line. No personal injuries have been reported. The community draws its drinking water from municipal wells several miles away; there does not appear to be any imminent risk of harm to residents living near the plant. Still, angry local home owners are already demanding assurances that neither their property nor their health has been jeopardized.

Taking you aside, the CEO expresses his first concern: what to tell the governor. The CEO's second worry is what to tell the press. His third concern: what to tell his wife, who is planning a cocktail party for local civic leaders that evening. The ever-present threat of litigation is not at the top of his list of concerns because in confronting an environmental crisis, the consideration of potential legal liabilities is only one issue among many. The very integrity of the company's name is at stake and its value cannot be assessed in legal terms. Clearly, the primary constituencies to address are the community, the media and the politicians.

DON'T OVERLOOK THE OBVIOUS

But legal dilemmas should not be overlooked. Indeed, they need to be prepared for in advance. Your CEO should have begun to prepare for this disaster about one year before it happened.

The toxic tort cases facing industry today present complex factual and legal issues. Often the claimants are people who live close to industrial facilities and waste sites. These residents may seek recovery for personal injury, fear of cancer and birth defects, trespass, nuisance and property damage. Liability analysis alone is a monumental task for defense counsel. The vast number of prospective claims facing a company can daunt even the most stouthearted CEO, in-house counsel or company spokesperson.

Property damage claimants usually outnumber personal injury claimants, although the two groups are by no means mutually exclusive. With growing frequency, attorneys are pleading personal injury complaints on behalf of residents who have no discernible injury and bear only a remote or fleeting connection to the site. This variety of personal injury suit may be successfully defended because these claimants rarely substantiate their cases with cal proof of exposure, duration and proximate cause.

As a rule of thumb, a damage exposure in an environmental property damage claim is less than in a personal injury suit. However, the sheer volume of property damage claims can pose a much greater financial threat to the company. During settlement negotiations, several hundred or several thousand pending claims may be sufficient to compel a company to ante up millions of dollars.

The magnitude of these cases often results in a windfall to claimants who may not have provable claims. In mass tort cases, the plaintiffs' attorney determines how much money each settling plaintiff receives. The defendant rarely learns how much money went to an individual plaintiff. More to the point, the defendant never learns what the claimant might have accepted in a more traditional settlement of his or her claim, in which the plaintiff negotiates individually.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Threat of Toxic Torts
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.