Toxic contamination class actions often include claims by plaintiffs asserting a whole host of problems, from serious health and medical conditions to wide-scale property damage. In Osarczuk v. Associated Univs. Inc., the New York Supreme Court for Suffolk County considered the additional economic damages caused when drinking water is contaminated.
The plaintiffs, a number of people living near the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, brought an action against the defendant, the laboratory’s owner and operator, alleging that the defendant unlawfully emitted toxic substances such as trichloroethane, tritium, strontium-90, uranium, argon-41 and cesium-137 into the air, soil and ground water near the lab. This, according to the plaintiffs, caused health problems, including cancer, nausea, headaches, and various immune conditions, to people living in the surrounding area as well as property damage and economic damage as a result of being forced to switch water sources. The plaintiffs sought both compensatory and punitive damages for the injuries incurred.
The plaintiffs also asked the court to certify a plaintiff class (broken into various sub-classes) consisting of people who live or work within a 10-mile radius of the lab and who have suffered personal injury or property damage as a result of the alleged pollution.
Class certification allows one or more members of a class of similarly situated plaintiffs to sue on behalf of all class members. Under New York law, a class may be certified only where: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) the class shares common questions of law or fact which predominate over any questions affecting only individual members; (3) the class representatives’ claims are typical of those of the class; (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class; and (5) a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. A plaintiff seeking class certification bears the burden of proving that these requirements have been met, but need not prove that it is likely to succeed on the actual merits of the lawsuit.
The court determined that the plaintiffs satisfied each of the requirements for class certification, but limited the class to those persons living in the proscribed radius who allege to have suffered either property damage as a result of the contamination or financial loss when they were forced to switch from free local well water to that provided by the local water authority when the wells allegedly became contaminated. In so doing, the court noted that these class members share common questions regarding both their damages, including the costs attendant with switching to another water source, as well as the defendant’s legal liability for these and other injuries.
The court also noted that the plaintiffs “demonstrated that they can fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class, as they have, among other things, retained experienced counsel in the area of mass tort class action litigation.” Finally the court stated that, in this matter, “the class action procedure is superior” to other adjudication methods because the vast majority of individuals who have allegedly incurred damages have not yet commenced litigation against the defendant and given the wide array of scientific and technical evidence that must be gathered in order to prove their case.
The class action attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle represent plaintiffs in dumping and contamination class action litigation at state and federal levels. These cases typically involve complex issues of liability, causation and damages, which our Illinois trial lawyers have experience in handling.
Related blog posts: