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Toxic Torts and Product Liability

From representing more than 200 families in a water contamination matter to the pursuit of claims involving exposure to toxic herbicides, Varnum attorneys have a strong record of successful advocacy for clients

In toxic tort matters, our experienced litigation team is supported by Varnum’s environmental and natural resources practice, which includes attorneys with engineering, technical and science backgrounds. In addition, we have cultivated a network of engineering and science consultants who provide timely expertise and advice on environmental technical disciplines as well as expert witness testimony.

Varnum’s renowned litigation attorneys employ a multidisciplinary approach for special projects. With our depth of jury and bench trial experience, we understand the importance of research and rigorous preparation in order to achieve the best resolution, even for matters that do not go to trial. When they do, we live, eat and breathe the matter and work hand-in-hand with you through the process.

Recently we have seen asbestos litigation enter into a new phase. In the past, manufacturers and distributors of asbestos-containing products were the targets. Now that most of those companies are extinct, the target has shifted to companies that have, or had, asbestos in their facilities. These new “premises liability” lawsuits are being filed by employees of independent contractors who allege that they were exposed to asbestos while working in the defendants’ facilities as boilermakers, electricians, pipefitters and insulators.

While premises liability lawsuits are in their infancy, they are quickly becoming more prevalent. Varnum’s asbestos litigation team defends clients faced with this new threat.

Residents in areas of northern Kent County have recently been made aware of groundwater and well contamination by industrial chemicals allegedly leaching from a former licensed facility used for many years to dispose of leather treatment waste products.

The chemicals include a variety of compounds known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which have been linked to certain cancers and other diseases. Many homes in the area are testing at levels much higher than EPA health advisory levels.

Although a number of sites in Plainfield Township and the Belmont area are being investigated, the highest concentration of known contamination currently is in the area of a former dump site at 1855 House Street NE, owned by Wolverine World Wide, Inc. For many years, Wolverine used the site to dispose of sludge and other waste products associated with leather processing. These waste products included PFAS compounds which were a key ingredient in Scotchgard, used for many years as a waterproofing agent.

Varnum has been retained to represent the interests of many homeowners who are impacted by the contamination. Among other things, Varnum is working to ensure our clients have clean, safe drinking water. Varnum is also addressing the property value losses associated with the contamination, and determining whether certain individuals’ health issues are related to these contaminants and if they are, ensuring that their rights are protected.

Our goal is to ensure that effective remedial options are pursued immediately, including the expeditious cleanup of these contaminants, restoration of the environment, and restoring the community’s confidence in their water source.

What should you do?

If you believe your home may be affected by this contamination and have questions about your legal options, please contact a member of the PFAS team at [email protected] or call 616/336-6117.

Varnum’s product liability attorneys believe that there are innovative, cost-effective answers to the questions manufacturers face – solutions that result from taking a business approach to defending a company’s product liability claims. We believe great client service is not simply represented by our courtroom skills. It is a combination of experience, innovation, good management and working in partnership with our clients. Perhaps most important is working with clients to promote the success of the client’s products in the marketplace. We work with clients to identify and help implement product “risk solutions,” which prevent product liability and warranty risks before they occur. The company’s mission statement and approach to business should be at the core of a company’s product risk management program and should reflect joint decisions with the client as to how the defense will be structured.

As product liability lawsuits continue to make headlines, Varnum offers answers to companies questioning such options as:

  • What steps can the company take to identify and prevent product risks before they occur?
  • Can the company’s business practices reduce its legal costs and enhance the company’s place in the market?
  • When problems arise, can risk prevention and loss reduction steps still be helpful?
  • Can the defense of the company’s products positively reflect the products?
  • Can product-related legal costs be reduced by early intervention and planning?
Providing Value Through The Right Partnership

No one knows your products and business better than you. Therefore, it's important to develop a legal partnership that includes key people from your business and legal specialists who can address the complexities of the company’s products and legal claims that may arise. This partnership is critical to:

  • Identifying product solutions early on to promote the success of the company’s products
  • Identifying the issues that will make a difference in the case when a claim arises
  • Knowing your products and business
  • Creating and following a risk management and loss prevention program that can most effectively contribute to the success of  your business

The partnership between the company and its legal team should be permanent – a relationship based on a knowledge of the products and the company’s business philosophy and practices.

Providing Value Through Experience and Innovation

The legal team must thoroughly understand all aspects of the product: what it is, how it was developed, how it evolved and how it is made. They must understand the design and manufacturing process, outside standards, testing requirements and any industry standards or governmental regulations. Product and company knowledge is at the heart of our relationship with our manufacturing clients. Varnum lawyers have years of industry experience and work with outside experts in product design and manufacturing. Our attorneys also participate in industry risk management groups. We work closely with our clients to research, understand and address the technical and legal issues involved in responding to product liability claims.

At Varnum, we understand that the best product defense starts well before the product goes to market and continues through the defense of product-related claims at trial. Overall, the success of the legal relationship must be focused on promoting the company’s business success.

“Varnum has done an excellent job representing my company in product liability litigation, as well as in litigation related to dealer disputes and warranty. They do outstanding work and are very responsive. They perform in a very cost-effective manner. I'd recommend Varnum to anyone.”

Client, US News – Best Lawyers® Best Law Firms

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