Sanne H. Knudsen, The Long-Term Tort: In Search of a New Causation Framework for Natural Resources Damages, 108 Nw. U. L. Rev. 475 (2014), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/15
Northwestern University Law Review
environmental disasters, toxic torts
Recent scientific evidence is proving that toxic releases have long-term, unintended, and harmful consequences for the marine environment. Though a new paradigm is emerging in the scientific literature--one demonstrating that long-term impacts from oil spills are more significant than previously thought--legal scholars, regulators, and courts have yet to consider the law's ability to remedy long-term ecological harms.
While scholars have exhaustively debated causation questions related to latent injuries for toxic torts, they have overlooked the equally important and conceptually similar causation problems of long-term damages in the natural resource context. Likewise, only a few courts have considered the standards of proving causation for natural resource damages. They have not considered long-term injuries.
This Article provides a foundation for developing causation frameworks that respect the complexities of long-term ecological harms. Specifically, this Article uses scientific research to illustrate the causal difficulty of proving long-term ecological injuries. In doing so, it establishes the foreseeability of long-term injuries and the inadequacy of applying a traditional torts paradigm.
Ultimately, this Article looks to toxic tort law and risk-of-injury cases for possible approaches to the causation challenges raised by long-term ecological injuries-these are challenges that, like latent toxic tort injuries, raise issues of time delay, aggregate exposure, synergistic effects, and multiple possible sources of harm.