What is an Environmental Tort?

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Grant Lawson with Metier Law Firm.

What is an Environmental Tort?
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A tort is just another way of referring to a person, thing, or event that caused harm to another party, providing justification for legal action. Environmental torts or lawsuits often occur when the actions of a corporation harm the surrounding environment; this could include releasing toxins into the water, air, or ground which cause harm to people, plants, or wildlife. An environmental tort may also encompass the destruction of important natural elements.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for creating and enforcing laws designed specifically to protect nature and the people who live in it from the harmful effects of waste and pollution. When a company violates EPA rules, not only do they put the health and livelihood of people and nature at risk, they also open themselves up to legal liability. If you believe that a corporation or event unduly harmed the environment or those living in it due to negligent or intentional acts against nature, reach out to an environmental tort attorney to discuss your options for correcting the situation.

Common examples of environmental torts include the following:

  • Oil leaks
  • Chemical spills
  • Toxic waste
  • Harmful herbicides
  • Groundwater contamination
  • Lead-based paint
  • Exposure to PCBs and dioxins (environmental contaminants released into the air via combustion)
  • Exposure to volatile organic compounds
  • Invasive species
  • Fire hazards
  • Lake and river pollutants

Damages in an environmental tort are unique.

In addition to the standard damages such as medical bills and lost wages for those who were injured as a result of the environmental tort, stigma damages may be applicable depending on the case. Stigma damages is a term used to refer to the effect an environmental tort has on a property’s value; if a property decreased in value as a result of the misconduct, the property owner may be eligible to receive stigma damages in compensation. Additionally, punitive damages may be awarded in environmental tort cases despite being relatively rare. Punitive damages generally occur in situations where the at-fault party is deemed to have behaved with reckless disregard for those in their duty of care. In this situation, the at-fault party may be charged with punitive damages intended as both a punishment and a deterrent from future similar conduct.

Environmental torts often fall into the category of mass torts.

Mass torts are similar to class action lawsuits, with a few key differences. Class action lawsuits tend to involve an extreme number of people who were injured by the same thing and may be spread across the country. On the other hand, mass torts typically involve a smaller group of people who often reside in the same geographic area. When significant harm comes to the environment, it generally affects the people, plants, and wildlife living in the area, not just one person, so environmental torts generally qualify as mass torts. In an environmental mass tort situation, each plaintiff or victim will need to pursue compensation for their individual damages by presenting their own evidence. The coordination of this is often benefited by the facilitation of an environmental tort attorney.

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