Toxic Tort

Toxic tort litigation has become a favored strategy used to redress real and perceived grievances against corporate entities.  The litigation ranges from the single-plaintiff claim or thousand-plaintiff class action to "private attorney general" regulatory litigation (the latter often instigated by so-called consumer protection organizations).

The increased emphasis on fraud and conspiracy claims in conjunction with personal injury and medical monitoring allegations (based upon the success of such strategies for tobacco and asbestos products) has created a higher-stakes legal climate.  Effective legal representation is critical to a company's reputation and continued success—indeed, sometimes to its survival.

Steptoe defends toxic tort claims nationwide for the oil, petrochemical, aerospace, manufacturing, and agricultural chemical industries.  A recent review of our matters reflects litigation in more than 30 states.  Our cases range from single-plaintiff, single-defendant, and single-product claims of personal injury to matters in which we act as shared counsel for multiple defendants (from 2 to 10+) in cases involving hundreds to thousands of plaintiffs and dozens to hundreds of products.

The common element of these claims is that plaintiffs allege injurious exposure to chemicals.  The disease endpoints include cancer, birth defects, and major organ disease (such as lung, brain and central nervous system, kidney, and liver).  Such exposure may arise from a workplace (e.g., 600+ workers from an aerospace facility in Burbank, California), environmental contamination (e.g., 1000+ residents of Hildago County, Texas, who claim exposure from releases at a former pesticide warehouse), or a consumer product (e.g., leukemia claims from exposure to gasoline). 

Our strategy is to present our opponents with a genuine trial risk because that is the risk most appreciated by the plaintiff bar.  With the exception of those claims that can be resolved summarily, we try a relatively high percentage of our cases.  We effectively communicate complex medical, industrial hygiene, warnings, and toxicology issues to juries.  Due to the fact-intensive nature of many claims, toxic tort cases are rarely resolved by dispositive motion practice.  Where appropriate, however, we use Daubert, Kelly-Frye, preemption, and other legal doctrines to narrow and, occasionally, to terminate the case.

Our own understanding of the science, medicine, and regulations on which these cases turn permits us to communicate effectively with clients (operations and legal personnel) in the parlance of their own industry.  Additionally, our paralegals' specialized training and experience in identifying and organizing key information from the vast quantities of factual materials produced in the discovery process greatly enhances the presentation to experts and courts, and increases client value in the litigation process.

We also advise clients on preventative measures, including potential criminal and administrative liabilities, the avoidance of civil litigation, the adequacy of product warnings, presentations of documentation for regulatory consideration, and comments on agency policies and rules.

Representative Matters

  • Multiple trials alleging cancer, brain damage, pulmonary, and other organ damage caused by occupational exposure to metals and solvents in an aircraft manufacturing plant in California.
  • Representation of a major oil refiner in a 10,000-person class-action case alleging various cancers from emissions at an oil recycling facility.
  • Regulatory proceedings and litigation in the defense of domestic and international product manufacturers accused of exposing citizens to chemical concentrations in excess of “maximum contaminant levels,” in purported violation of “Proposition 65” (the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986).
  • Trials in an environmental-exposure, economic-damages case in federal court in Kentucky, and a companion personal-injury case tried separately in the same court, involving solvents, dioxins, and PCBs, among other substances.
  • Multiple administrative law trials on behalf of industrial manufacturing facilities and refineries cited for alleged violations of Cal OSHA General Industry Safety Orders and federal OSHA regulations.
  • Jury trial of a "living mesothelioma" claim in state court in California.
  • Trial of a case in Wyoming alleging pulmonary injury from exposure to radiographic chemicals.
  • A hearing in New Jersey state court on a proposed class action concerning contamination of drinking water from industrial operations.
  • Multiple trials of leukemia and lymphoma claims from alleged gasoline and solvent exposures.
  • Representation of a major railroad in California state court concerning the release of anhydrous ammonia in a small town.
  • Litigation of cases in Texas and Oklahoma involving alleged occupational exposure to metal fumes and solvents in a US Air Force aircraft maintenance facility.


  • We have wide-ranging professional relationships with many of the leading scientists and physicians in the United States, Europe, and in the relevant disciplines. We have presented these individuals as expert witnesses at trial.
  • Legal 500 US, Litigation: Product liability mass tort and class action: toxic tort - defense, 2014-2017
  • Legal 500 US, Environment: Litigation, 2017

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