NC Cancer Cluster Raises Serious Questions

NC Cancer Cluster Raises Serious Questions

January 16, 2020 | Environmental Litigation

Five people on one street in a Charlotte suburb have developed thyroid tumors. There is evidence that toxins from a nearby power plant might be responsible for the cancer cluster.

Iredell County resident Susan Wind first became concerned when her then-16-year-old daughter developed a small lump behind her ear.

Doctors eventually discovered that both she and a number of her neighbors had thyroid cancer. The cancer rate was twice as high in this area that it was statewide.

A preliminary investigation indicated that two power plants on nearby Lake Norman might have released toxins into the air.

One of the power plants is coal-fired and the other one is nuclear. But not everyone is convinced. Eleven other North Carolina counties also had elevated thyroid cancer rates.

There are over 1,000 cancer clusters in the United States.

The federal government defines these clusters as a “greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time.”

Basic Elements of an Environmental Poisoning Claim

Unintended consequences are very common in product development matters. Sometimes, these consequences are positive.

Viagra is a good example. Developers hoped that it would be an effective cardiovascular drug.

That vision did not come to pass, but during clinical trials, it quickly became apparent that the drug effectively treated erectile dysfunction.

However, these unintended consequences are rarely 100 percent positive.

Viagra has been linked to numerous health issues, including heart problems and sensory loss.

These ill effects are also apparent in environmental poisoning cases. Even the most unscrupulous companies do not intentionally poison the air and water.

But they are legally responsible for damages when these things happen. In fact, companies are liable for environmental damages as a matter of law.

Negligence, or lack thereof, is typically irrelevant.

Negligence is relevant with regard to damages. Many times, companies produced products and released toxins into the environment with little regard for the consequences.

Expert Witnesses and Environmental Poisoning Claims

Victim/plaintiffs need not prove negligence in environmental law claims, but they must prove causation.

Cancer clusters are very convincing.

If several children who attended a birthday party develop food poisoning, it’s reasonable to assume the cake might have been tainted.

Similarly, if several people in the same geographic area develop cancer, it’s reasonable to assume there was a common cause.

To establish causation, victim/plaintiffs normally rely on expert witnesses. In fact, in many jurisdictions, such proof is mandatory in environmental law claims.

Everyone knows these witnesses, whether they testify for the plaintiff or defendant, are basically hired guns.

So, credibility and ability to connect with jurors is often key.

Many experts have excellent academic credentials, but they are not very persuasive in court. That’s especially true if the defendant calls witnesses who debunk the expert’s opinion, as is almost always the case.

In New York, victim/plaintiffs have more choices in this area.

Courts in the Empire State use the Frye standard to evaluate expert witnesses and determine if they are qualified to present their conclusions to a jury.

Resolving Environmental Law Actions

Most of these actions never make it to a jury. Over 90 percent of these claims settle out of court.

However, unless an attorney thoroughly prepares a claim for trial and has a successful track record, victims are unlikely to receive fair compensation.

That’s because defense lawyers are not scared of lawyers who are unprepared and/or inexperienced.

Due to the complex nature of environmental poisoning claims, many of these cases settle after mediation.

A neutral third party, who is usually an unaffiliated New York personal injury lawyer, works to facilitate a settlement between the plaintiff and defendant.

Mediation usually happens after the parties exchange information about their claims and defenses. If both parties negotiate in good faith, mediation is often successful.

Alternatively, some environmental poisoning cases go to multidistrict litigation forums.

MDL is especially common in pharmaceutical litigation claims and other matters which involve a large number of victims over a long period of time.

Cases from multiple jurisdictions are consolidated for pretrial purposes.

So, victim/plaintiffs are able to pool their resources. And, once once case settles, it creates positive momentum, and other matters usually settle favorably as well.

Cancer clusters indicate indicate the presence of environmental poisoning.

For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC.

We do not charge upfront legal fees in injury cases.

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