Publication Title

Northwestern University Law Review


environmental disasters, toxic torts

Document Type



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.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.