Toxic Tort



Since the health risks of toxic and hazardous waste contamination first garnered public attention and triggered a tidal wave of litigation and regulation in the 1970s, Wilson Elser has been on the front lines of toxic tort and mass tort litigation. With nearly four decades of experience defending these claims, our talented attorneys and supporting professionals work nationwide as one integrated team and command considerable respect throughout this field.

Our trial experience and historical perspective give us insight into legacy issues and the foresight to advise on current and emerging toxic tort issues.

Our trial experience and historical perspective give us insight into legacy issues and the foresight to advise on current and emerging toxic tort issues. More than 20 defense verdicts and appellate wins in asbestos exposure lawsuits over the past decade attest to the effectiveness of Wilson Elser’s litigators.

  • In all the key environmental forums, we defend corporations and insurance carriers in personal injury/wrongful death and “asbestos in buildings” lawsuits – from New York to the U.S. Virgin Islands to California.

  • Wilson Elser is highly experienced in the area of coverage litigation. We achieve significant victories on both the trial and appellate levels in many high-profile, national coverage disputes. We help to create specialty insurance policies for clients eager to “write the business,” yet justifiably cautious that the policies will survive careful scrutiny.

  • We serve as national, regional and local defense counsel. We handle routine tasks with speed and efficiency and do not hesitate to try cases in court when it best serves our clients’ interests.

  • Our familiarity with both medical and liability issues associated with asbestos, heavy metals, mold, benzene and other toxic substances benefits our clients at trial. We simplify scientific concepts so that they can be readily understood and advance – not hamper – litigation objectives.

  • We serve on the national trial teams of major manufacturers to develop, cross-examine and present Daubert/Frye challenges of scientific experts in epidemiology, immunology, neurology, pathology, rheumatology, risk assessment and toxicology.

Litigating toxic tort cases relies on relationships with the limited pool of experts who can support the product defense. Wilson Elser has strong, long-standing relationships with experts from respected universities and consulting firms, as well as with medical doctors, toxicologists, epidemiologists and industrial hygienists. Our attorneys serve on national trial and science teams for several defendants in both mature and emerging toxic tort claims. Consequently, we identify and retain the most competent experts, strengthening credibility when exploring potential resolutions.

We enjoy considerable experience in cross-examining and challenging the testimony of experts presented by plaintiff law firms, are familiar with most plaintiffs’ experts in mature toxic tort claims and have the resources to challenge plaintiffs’ experts in emerging claims.

We are devoted to providing consistency in claims management, and our sophisticated electronic systems and web-based tools allow for the efficient handling of large-scale, document-intensive cases. We take the lead, develop the experts, file the motions, meet every deadline and try cases across the United States with skill and enthusiasm.

Our attorneys are familiar with all substances that are typically at the heart of toxic tort defense litigation. These notably include:

  • Asbestos

    Wilson Elser has been involved in asbestos litigation for more than 30 years. In both premises liability and product liability matters, we coordinate the representation of many defendants in personal injury, wrongful death and asbestos in buildings lawsuits. In litigating these matters, we develop a joint defense system for achieving effective, cost-efficient results.

    We represent product manufacturers and distributors as well as premises owners, and we litigate matters relating to asbestos exposure in various contexts, including, but not limited to, chemical plants, commercial plants and buildings, powerhouses, refineries, residences, schools, shipyards and steel mills. We are familiar with the types of exposure sustained by workers in all fields, including pipe coverers, boilermakers, carpenters, tapers, sheet metal workers, plumbers, steamfitters, shipyard workers and U.S. Navy personnel. We defend companies involved in the manufacture and distribution of a broad range of asbestos-containing products such as gaskets, packing and sealing products, boilers, pumps, compressors, evaporators, joint compounds, household appliances, tiles and friction products.

    While we recognize the wisdom of resolving most asbestos cases prior to the expense and vagaries associated with a jury trial, our attorneys have significant trial experience in defending personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits relating to asbestos exposure in both the state and federal courts and have obtained numerous defense verdicts. We are experienced in litigating state-of-the-art issues relating to knowledge in the medical and scientific communities, and we are well-versed in the relevant medical and scientific literature and studies.

    Our practice team structure enables us to share our collective experience and our national presence allows our attorneys to be well-acquainted with plaintiffs in most national jurisdictions. In addition, we have access to the most respected defense experts in various fields, including epidemiology, pathology, industrial hygiene and pulmonary medicine. Over the years, we have resolved tens of thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits by trial, settlement, dismissals and summary judgment. We settle cases individually and in groups and negotiate settlements of all sizes.

  • Benzene

    We regularly represent defendants in benzene exposure cases alleging acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), myelodysplasia (MDS), and other forms of leukemia; blood illnesses; and cancer. We have coordinated the national defense for a leading global energy company for more than 25 years. Clients represented include (1) chemical, major petroleum and petrochemical companies that supplied benzene, gasoline and other products that contain or are alleged to contain benzene as an ingredient and (2) non-traditional defendants such as automotive and construction parts companies that supplied products alleged to contain trace amounts of benzene. We have a proven record of early, aggressive motion practice on scientific issues in bringing these cases to swift and successful conclusions.

    We were the lead counsel in Parker v. Mobil – a seminal case in which New York’s highest court addressed the standard for admissibility of scientific expert opinion for all toxic tort actions – and Wills v. Amerada Hess Corp – another seminal case in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals addressed for the first time whether Daubert applied in a toxic tort action involving a seaman. In both cases, we successfully barred plaintiffs’ expert opinions and achieved dismissal on summary judgment. Based on our long record of defending benzene cases, we have extensive experience in identifying and retaining the appropriate expert witnesses in the fields of toxicology, epidemiology, hematology and industrial hygiene to achieve successful results.

  • Lead

    Wilson Elser’s trial attorneys, who have local and national reputations for excellence, handle the defense of individuals and corporate clients in lead paint exposure cases. Our defense verdicts in lead poisoning cases have been recognized in newspapers, such as the New York Law Journal, as some of the top noteworthy defense verdicts of the year. Our team has also widely lectured and chaired national lead paint seminars on topics such as the presumed notice provisions of local statutes upon landlords (e.g., New York City's Local Law I); causation issues; refuting damages; trial tactics; and insurance coverage issues. In addition, our attorneys have authored books on lead paint poisoning litigation published by national groups such as the American Bar Association.

  • Mold

    Our experience in defending mold cases is unsurpassed on both a local and national level. We vigorously defend the liability of the claims and the causation of the injuries. We successfully argue that the alleged medical conditions of various plaintiffs are not causally related to the type of mold found in the premises (e.g., aspergillus, penicillum, cladosporium and stachybotrys) or that the interior mold spore count is less than or no greater than the mold spore count outdoors that would cause a deleterious effect on health. Through our network of highly regarded experts, our team supports the defense that reliable medical research, peer studies and scientific data do not establish specific causation in interior mold exposure cases. We have been able to establish alternate causes for the ailments of the plaintiffs, including exposure to allergens unrelated to mold and preexisting medical conditions. Through our vigorous defense of these claims, we have been able to effectuate extremely low settlements without engaging in protracted litigation and have prompted voluntary dismissals of the actions.

  • Chemicals, Solvents and Other Toxins

    Wilson Elser’s toxic tort practice has extensive experience in all types of traditional toxic tort claims as well as the newest emerging claims. For example, we have always been one of the leaders in defending manufacturers, distributors, retailers and employers in cancer claims of exposure to petroleum-related chemicals in products such as solvents, adhesives, automotive materials, paints and acetone. We have been in the forefront of recent cases involving serious lung injury claims from workers in the butter flavoring and popcorn industries, who were exposed to diacetyl. We have defended against claims of lung injuries from abrasives, dusts and irritants from working with metal, wood products and industrial dusts.