toxic_tort_Defense by panniuniu


									                   DOE/Contractor Conference

                                  Fall 2006

Toxic Tort Defense, Nuclear Facilities and the Price-Anderson Act

A. Toxic Tort Civil Suits

       1. Typical claims:

          (a) Causes of Action – state common law – negligence, gross negligence,
              nuisance, trespass, strict liability.

          (b) Contamination of persons, property, air and/or water by toxic agents
              – e.g., PCBs, dioxins, asbestos, silica, benzene, beryllium.

          (c) Resulting in personal injury, fear of personal injury and/or property

       2. Any substance is toxic – depending on exposure and dose.

          In industrial society, there are at least trace amounts of toxic agents
          everywhere – in everything, in everyone – e.g., there are PCBs in the tree
          bark on Isle Royale; the FDA finds and measures the amount of each
          chemical found in each supermarket food.

       3. Where and how to defend and win toxic tort claims on the facts.

          Toxic tort suits can be won – even suits involving the most hazardous
          substances filed in the most plaintiff-friendly venues.

          Plaintiffs’ attorneys “link” a claimant’s ailments and the presence of a
          hazardous substance glossing lightly over “causation.” Proximate
          causation is an element of tort causes of action. Proof of causation often is
          the Achilles heel of the Plaintiff’s toxic tort case.

          Focus on lack of causation – investigating each of the three types of

                a. generic causation – exposure to and doses of even massive
                   amounts of that substance (the substance alleged) do not cause
                   the ailments complained of.
                b. specific causation – the trace amounts of that substance (either
                   exposure or dose) did not actually cause this plaintiff’s ailments.

                c.     alternative causation – science and medicine know substance X
                      causes these ailments. We know this plaintiff was exposed to
                      and received massive doses of substance X.

       4. Opportunities to test and expose Plaintiff lawyer science. Each aspect of
          Plaintiffs’ science may be suspect. Scrutiny of Plaintiffs’ measurements,
          calculations and linkage may bar the evidence or strip it of all credibility.

                 a. Daubert-type. Federal courts and some state courts will bar as
                    “junk science” Plaintiff-sponsored causation opinions that fail to
                    meet Daubert-type standards.

                 b. Assault on Plaintiffs’ experts and science.

                       Plaintiffs’ experts and their opinions are often slickly packaged
                       and professionally presented.

                       Much of the Plaintiff-sponsored efforts on causation may rest,
                       however, on improper assumptions, sloppy test protocols,
                       inaccurate calculations or worse. Examples:

                           a. asbestos doctors
                           b. silicosis Texas opinion
                           c. Mississippi “conversion factors”

                       Be prepared to directly confront both Plaintiffs’ experts and
                     their science.

B. Toxic Tort suits at nuclear facilities in the shadow of the Price Anderson Act.

       5. If the tort claims involve events that took place on a federal enclave, the
          Price-Anderson Act provides an independent basis for federal jurisdiction.
          (The Golden case infra was so removed.)

       6. The Price-Anderson Act vests jurisdiction in the federal courts over any
          “public liability action arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident.”
          42 U.S.C. $ 2210(n)(2). A “public liability action” is defined as a suit
          asserting in “any legal liability arising out of or resulting from a nuclear
          incident.” 42 U.S.C. $ 2014(2), (hh)

           The Price-Anderson Act provides that, for any public liability action
           covered by the Act, the United States district court in the district where the
   nuclear incident takes place, or in the case of a nuclear incident taking
   place outside the United States, the United States District court for the
   District of Columbia, shall have original jurisdiction without regard to the
   citizenship of any party or the amount in controversy. Accordingly,
   public liability actions filed in state court may be removed pursuant to 28
   U.S.C. $ 1446(a). 42 U.S.C. $ 2210(n)(2)

7. The 1988 amendments to the Price-Anderson Act were to: 1) expand and
   increase the pool of funds available to victims of a nuclear incident; and
   2) extend and clarify parts of the existing Price-Anderson scheme. In
   cases arising under the Price-Anderson Act, “the substantive rules for
   decision … shall be derived from the law of the State in which the nuclear
    incident involved occurs, unless such law is inconsistent with the [Price-
   Anderson Act].” 42 U.S.C. $2014(hh) Inconsistent state laws will not be
   applied and are preempted.

   The Price-Anderson Act does not displace state tort law on issues of
   liability and recoverable damages for nuclear accidents. Kiick v
   Metropolitan Edison Co., 784 F.2d 490 (3d Cir. 1986)

   Federal nuclear safety standards provide the sole measure of defendant’s
   duty in public liability cause of action. O’Connor v Commonwealth
   Edison Co., 13 F.3d 1090 (7th Cir. 1994)

   Federal law governs the nuclear safety standard of care for tort claims
   arising from nuclear accidents. In re TMI Gen. Pub. Utils. Corp., 67 F.3d
   1103 (3d Cir. 1995)

   The Price-Anderson Act requires a physical injury before a plaintiff may
   recover for an accompanying emotional injury. See In re Berg Litig., 293
   F.3d 1127, 1131 (9th Cir. 2002)

   Punitive damages are not available under Price-Anderson Action. Kiick v
   Metropolitan Edison Co., 784 F.2d 490 (3d Cir. 1986)

   Congress phased out the federal indemnity for nuclear incidents at
   commercial facilities as part of its 1975 amendment and extension of the
   Price-Anderson scheme. See Pub. L. No. 94-197, 89 Stat. 111 (1975); S.
   Rep. No. 100-70 at 15 (1987), reprinted in 1988 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 1428.
   This second-tier of Price-Anderson financial protection was replaced by
   an industry-funded self-insurance pool consisting of “retrospective
   premiums” paid by NRC licensees in the event of an accident exceeding
   the coverage available from private insurance. See Pub.L. No. 94-197, 89
   Stat. 1111 (1975); S. Rep. No. 100-70, at 15 (1087), reprinted in 1988
   U.S.C.C.A.N. at 1428.

8. In Cook v Rockwell, et. al., Plaintiffs filed suit in the U. S. District Court
   for Colorado. Plaintiffs were landowners near the Rocky Flats Arsenal
       who claimed property damage from releases of plutonium and other
       hazardous substances. Case was litigated for 15 years against former
       Rocky Flats contractors, Dow Chemical and Rockwell International. The
       DOE was found in contempt for discovery transgressions. There was
       extensive media coverage in Colorado. Plaintiffs’ lead counsel
       described it as the “most frivolous and expensive defense,
       possibly in class action history.” Defendant’s counsel said DOE
       viewed the cases “as frivolous.”

       Plaintiffs’ claims were tried to a jury in Denver. There was the
       assortment of experts – on nuclear weapons plant operations,
       epidemiology and real estate. In February, 2006, the jury returned a
       verdict on liability for Plaintiffs against the Defendant contractors,
       awarding compensatory damages of $345,000,000 and punitive damages
       of an additional $200,000,000. Total verdict was $545,000,000. The
       contractor defendants have appealed to the 10th Circuit.

   9. In Golden v CH2M Hill, Plaintiffs filed suit in State Court in Washington,
      claiming personal injuries from nuclear hazardous releases at the Hanford
      Nuclear Reservation Tank Farms. There had been a series of
      investigations by GAP, DOE and the Washington Attorney General
      involving alleged hazardous releases at the site. Plaintiffs alleged
      common law tort claims; the alleged hazardous releases included
      radiological releases.

       CH2M Hill, a Hanford contractor, removed the case to U.S. District Court
       for Eastern District of Washington, asserting that Hanford is a “federal

       After discovery and shortly before trial, the District Court dismissed
       Plaintiffs’ claims finding that Plaintiffs had failed to link up the hazardous
       releases to their personal injuries with proof of causation as required under
       both state common law and the amended Price-Anderson Act. Plaintiffs
       have appealed to the 9th Circuit.

   6. In Cook, the District Court held that the 1988 amendments to the PAA
      “Congress intended for state law, including state standards of care,
      continue as the substantive law …” 273 F.Supp. 2d 1175, 1188 (2003)
      The Court applied Colorado state law on trespass, nuisance, threat of
      future harm and damages. 273 F.Supp. 2d 1175

   7. At the Cook trial, Plaintiffs told the jury of years of plutonium horror at
      Rocky Flats.

       “… “lies,” “cover-ups,” “nuclear contamination,” and “2600 missing
       pounds of plutonium””
   Defendants responded with a high-powered, “multi-media,”
   defense, telling the jury:

   “This facility was not up to snuff, but it was not up to snuff not
   because people were asleep at the switch …. It was a complicated
   balancing situation.”

   Trial continued for four months, resulting in the “largest environmental
   award in Colorado history.”

8. (a)   Cook did apply the federal nuclear safety standard of care under the
         PAA 273 F. Supp 2d 1175 (2003). Thus, the application of some
         state tort law standards and some federal nuclear safety standards in
         nuclear facility toxic tort suits likely remains to be argued in motions
         and in jury instruction conferences.

    (b) As such, toxic tort suits under the PAA will be won or lost the same
        way that other toxic tort suits are won or lost – jury selection, trial
        themes, courtroom advocacy and the facts of causation – generic
        causation, specific causation and alternative causation. The cases
        may be litigated in the federal district courts, if the Defendants

   (c)   We have not included an analysis of defendant reimbursement.

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