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From the north side of my office building in Walnut Creek, Calif., I can see several refineries and chemical plants that stretch along the shores of San Francisco Bay and the Carquinez Strait between Richmond and Antioch, part of what’s been called the “Cancer Crescent.” I can also recall lawsuits brought at different times against nearly every one, following some toxic calamity. Some of these cases had successful outcomes while others ended disastrously, literally driving some previously profitable firms to bankruptcy. Anyone with experience handling toxic torts cases understands that they are expensive. They also know that oil companies and chemical manufacturers are formidable and resolute adversaries that have been emboldened further by several recent pro-industry appellate rulings. Establishing liability for a refinery or chemical plant catastrophe is comparatively easy. In my experience, every toxic release has resulted from a succession of astoundingly bad decisions and indifference to maintenance requirements, leading almost inevitably to a foreseeable disaster. Usually, the liability picture is clear just from the Cal-OSHA report. The only remaining questions concern whether the conduct of the plant was sufficiently reckless to support punitive damages and to what extent the profit motive determined the decisions that led to the explosion, spill, leak or other accident. In short, refinery or chemical plant disasters don’t result from acts of God but rather from the determination to keep the plant running at all costs. Of course, there is more to successful toxic tort lawsuits. Of particular concern are causation and damages. Establishing both requires experts and tests, which in turn requires money — lots of it. To establish damages caused by exposure to toxic material, you have to prove:

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