Toxic Exposure Case Study

Introduction

This case study analyzes a toxic tort lawsuit that was brought against a chemical manufacturing facility by surrounding residents. Plaintiffs claimed various personal injuries and property damage as the result of alleged exposure to chemicals emanating from the site; named defendants included the manufacturer and their general liability insurance carrier. The key issue was to determine causation factors for the exposed plaintiffs. 

LMI worked with defense counsel to efficiently and cost-effectively obtain and review plaintiff medical records, abstract key data points and provide the following analytics, within and across plaintiffs:

  • Accurate plaintiff demographic information (e.g., age, gender, residence, distance from site, etc.);
  • Alleged injuries;
  • Injury verification;
  • Exposure verification; and
  • Potential confounding variables and/or alternative causation factors.

Background

The manufacturer operated as a chemical manufacturing facility from 1935-1969 in Bossier City, Louisiana. The defendant purchased the facility 1950 and operated the plant until 1969. From 1971 through 1985, the site was inactive; in 1986, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) determined that hazardous materials remained at the site in concentrated levels that warranted immediate actions to protect the public. From 1989 through 1991, a fence was erected and trenches were excavated to delineate the extent of visually contaminated soil. Eventually, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed the site on the National Priorities List for known or threatening releases of hazardous substances. 

In 1991 and 1992, a Louisiana Department of Health site inspection determined that a portion of the perimeter fencing had broken and gaps would permit free access to the site. There was a well-worn foot path across an unfenced area of the site and children’s toys were scattered around drainage ditches surrounding the site. Water from the site was draining directly into the ditches and chemicals were identified on the surface of the ditch embankment, located across the street from the site. 

The potentially impacted area surrounding the site included 512 housing units, with an estimated population of 1,306 individuals. Institutions, schools, daycares, churches, a nursing home, hospital, and several residential apartment complexes were also located within a one-mile radius of the site. 

Solution

LMI was contacted by insurance carrier to consult on a proposed solution for efficiently obtaining medical records that dated back many years, as well as reviewing the records to abstract key data points within and across the entire plaintiff population. The insurer’s ultimate goals was to ascertain the probability that alleged injuries were due to chemical exposure versus potential alternative causes. 

LMI performed a high-level initial sampling of the Proof of Claim documents, revealing which questions were the most relevant to the allegations. 

LMI analysts also performed a review of relevant medical literature to determine leading conditions caused by exposure to the involved chemical, as well as potential alternative factors. Leading causes were identified as respiratory, dermatological and neurological conditions. It was also learned that tobacco use had a synergistic effect when combined with exposure to the chemical. With this information in mind, brief overviews were created for each plaintiff, capturing key data points, which could be viewed as inventory-wide analytics:

  • Most severe diagnosis
  • Exposure history
  • Key testing performed
  • Alcohol history
  • Tobacco history
  • Status (Living or deceased)

LMI created parameters to define “high,” “medium,” and “low” probabilities that each plaintiff’s alleged injury(ies) was related to chemical exposure. These designations were provided via LMI’s online platform and included the ability to search and obtain population-wide analytics. Probability ratings were peer-reviewed to ensure for consistency across the plaintiff pool. Many of the reviewed records were incomplete, so LMI also produced additional provider lists for counsel to ensure a complete and accurate history for each plaintiff. 

Realizing that many of the plaintiffs were minors, LMI created a demographic mapping of each plaintiff’s residence and school location relative to the site. With these maps, it became clear that many of the minors would have walked to school and, if they used prohibited shortcuts through the site, they would have incurred exposure while trespassing. This mapping and identification ultimately lead to the foundation for an equitable settlement and effective matter resolution.

Recommendations 

Expertise and experience provide counsel the best opportunity for effective matter resolution. In toxic exposure matters, consider the following recommendations:

  • Determine appropriate data points to obtain an accurate assessment of each plaintiff, such as: relevant demographics, injury and exposure verification, medical history, confounding variables, current status, and associated dates. 
  • Compile all required plaintiff information together in one centralized platform to generate analytics and reports across the entire plaintiff population, thus allowing for the identification of trends and outliers. 
  • Perform additional research on established trends to determine possible alternative causation. 

Whether the litigation strategy is to litigate or settle, customized medical analysis will provide you the analytics and reports required to efficiently and cost-effectively resolve matters. 

Do you need medical analysis or a database platform to host case information?  Contact LMI today to find out how we can help you reach effective matter resolution.