Being Small in a Supersized World: Tackling the Problem of Low-Level Exposures in Toxic Tort Actions

8 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2014 Last revised: 19 Jul 2014

See all articles by Jean M. Eggen

Jean M. Eggen

Widener University - Delaware Law School

Date Written: July 2, 2014


Low-level toxic tort claims are challenging traditional tort notions of injury and causation. Low-level exposures form the basis of claims in both environmental contamination cases and toxic product liability actions and may involve exposures below thresholds set in government health and safety standards. Establishing injury-in-fact and causation is especially problematic in low-level toxic tort claims due to latent harms, multiple defendants, and scientific uncertainty. In addition, the courts increasingly are asked to address whether relevant government standards should be accepted as legal thresholds that would bar plaintiffs’ claims when the defendant is in compliance with the standard. Traditionally, tort law has treated compliance with government standards as evidence of proper conduct, but not as a defense to suit. Courts today struggle with these issues and have applied various rules in individual cases. Although tort law and government regulation seem to be at odds, courts should seek a middle ground that values both. This Article explores the doctrinal underpinnings of the problem of low-level toxic tort claims, the various approaches undertaken by the courts, and the goals that should form the basis of a solution.

Keywords: toxic torts, low-level exposure, torts, tort law, environmental law, toxic substances, environmental contamination, toxic products

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Macchiaroli Eggen, Jean, Being Small in a Supersized World: Tackling the Problem of Low-Level Exposures in Toxic Tort Actions (July 2, 2014). Environmental Law Reporter, Vol. 44, 10630, Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-23, Available at SSRN:

Jean Macchiaroli Eggen (Contact Author)

Widener University - Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States
(302) 477-2155 (Phone)

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