The Value of Historical Research in Toxic Tort Litigation: Our Takeaways from DRI's Nashville Seminar

Taylor Research Group is often approached by law firms to conduct research on matters from individual asbestos cases to mass toxic tort litigation. To connect with leading attorneys in the field, learn about emerging environmental law issues, and reflect on how we can continue to innovate and add value to litigators, TRG attended the annual DRI Toxic Torts and Environmental Law Seminar from March 1 - 2, 2018. 

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The Emergent Issue of Talcum Powder

Speakers at the DRI seminar focused on topics we know well, such as asbestos and mesothelioma, but also addressed a variety of up-and-coming toxic tort issues. Talcum or talc powder, and its alleged ties to ovarian cancer, is one subject that has recently gained national media attention. Most notably, two judgements against Johnson & Johnson awarded millions to plaintiffs who claimed that their decades-long use of the company’s baby powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Both these rulings were reversed in October 2017, however, and each case remains on-going. 

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Though we’ll leave issues of cancer risk factors to health professionals, TRG is well-equipped to explore the historical side of talc powder litigation. We have extensive experience researching the manufacturing and marketing of products that allegedly contained toxins such as asbestos or lead.

Furthermore, our professional researchers are highly knowledgeable about the type of records valued in court for such litigation. We also have a unique understanding of where to look for record collections relevant to talc powder litigation at federal, state, and local repositories. Federal entities such as the U.S. EPA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may hold records of regulations imposed upon talc-containing products, and perhaps of any violation notices issued to manufacturers. Agencies such as OSHA and the FDA may hold product safety files that indicate if and when a specific product was deemed safe and reliable for consumer use. Trade literature and periodicals from repositories such as the Library of Congress could provide further insight into recognized industrial standards and practices over the years. Collections of historical newspaper articles, product catalogs, and company minutes and annual reports may also reveal how a product such as baby powder was internally discussed or publicly advertised.

Historical Research: A Powerful Asset for Litigators

Our time at the DRI Toxic Torts and Environmental Law Seminar not only allowed us to learn more about prominent issues in the field, but also reaffirmed the distinct benefits the TRG research process provides to litigators.

In his talk “Contingent Valuation of Environmental Goods: The Role of Economists in Toxic Tort Litigation,” Dr. James Burrows presented misgivings about the merit of contingency valuations (CV), arguing that individuals’ subjectivity, biases, and irrational choices render CV calculations in relation to environmental goods unreliable. Conversely, TRG researchers are neutral fact finders – we identify and gather relevant historical documentation in a logical, impartial manner. Collected materials speak for themselves, and allow law firms to develop a holistic and fact-based understanding of, for example, their client’s historical operations and activities, and how these may have changed over time in response to new science, standards, and/or regulations.

In Joseph Alberts’s presentation on “Off Target Crop Injury Legal Defenses,” he mentioned the importance of investigating all possible alternative causes for the issue at the center of a lawsuit. The ability to introduce, affirm, or disprove such alternate explanations is critical in a courtroom. When TRG conducts research for a client, perhaps by exploring other potentially responsible parties (PRPs) that operated on a contaminated site, it allows attorneys to learn of, document, or rule out alternate causal factors.

We thank DRI for the opportunity to attend their 2018 Toxic Torts and Environmental Law Seminar, and look forward to next year’s session. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us with any questions as to how our research services can help meet the needs of your firm.