TOXICOLOGY is a field of medicine dealing with the treatment of poisoning, drug overdose, and exposure to toxins or biological agents. The training of a Medical Toxicologist is complex, lasting five years or longer. First, a physician must complete training in Internal Medicine, Pediatrics or Emergency Medicine. Then, he or she must complete a two-year fellowship in Medical Toxicology. Medical toxicologists practice at poison control centers, hospitals, and large governmental agencies. Medical Toxicology differs from other fields of toxicology (such as pharmacology or toxicology research) in that all Medical Toxicologists are physicians. Consequently, they must understand not only the effects of various toxins but they also must diagnose and treat patients who have suffered from a wide range of exposures and poisonings.
Medical Toxicologists are experts in drug overdose, adverse drug reactions, envenomation, botanical exposure, chemical exposure, and occupational exposure. These areas include both acute or chronic events as well as intentional and unintentional exposures. Given their vast range of expertise, Medical Toxicologists are frequently called upon in both civil and criminal litigation. They also are required in “Toxic Tort” claims. A toxic tort is a personal injury lawsuit wherein a plaintiff claims that exposure to a chemical caused a specific injury or disease. Toxic tort claims typically arise from chemical or biological exposures due to pharmaceuticals, consumer products, the environment, home, or work. Examples of toxic tort scenarios may include pesticide exposure, illness caused by toxins in ground water, and mesothelioma secondary to workplace exposure to asbestos.
Litigation against Toxicologists is distinctly uncommon but may arise when a plaintiff alleges that improper treatment for a specific exposure resulted in further injury or death. More commonly, Medical Toxicologists appear as expert witnesses for both plaintiff and defense. In that capacity, their role is to educate the trier of fact in the area of harm and causation.