Author:Hsin-Hsing Chen (Shih-Hsin University)
Paper short abstract:
Time poses a particular problem in controversies about long-term, low-dosage exposure of unfamiliar hazards, as science and legal actions usually go in tandem in them. District court in the Taiwan RCA case tackles this by a novel interpretation of the existing statute of limitation.
Paper long abstract:
Time is always in typical toxic-tort litigations featuring long-term, low-dosage exposure to previously little-know hazardous factors. Not only do health outcomes of the exposure take time to become discernable, so do scientific research of the outcome, public awareness of the hazard, and the victims' mobilizing and organizing into groups seeking redress of the damage. Legal actions in such cases often goes in tandem with knowledge productions in fields such as epidemiology and toxicology as well as developments in technology such as method and equipment for chemical analysis, and social-technical infrastructure such as chemical lists used for various regulatory purposes. All these are likely spurred by rising social controversy regarding the hazard, and, in turn, shape the controversy itself.
Under these circumstances, statute of limitation (prescription) of tort law made in the context of pre-industrial society often impedes the victims' seeking of judicial redress. Lawsuits filed too early lack evidence; lawsuits filed after evidences become clear may have past the limitation period. The district court verdict in the Taiwan RCA litigation tackles this problem by formulating a novel interpretation of the law and taking into account the process of scientific knowledge production. This interpretation may shed light on how to address the problem of time in future toxic tort controversies.
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