Nguyen v. Western Digital Corp: On the Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Cases

Nguyen v. Western Digital Corp., a case from the Court of Appeals of the State of California, Sixth Appellate District, involved plaintiff who was born in 1994. Her mother worked for defendant from the late 1980s through 1998. Her mother worked in clean rooms in which she was exposed to tetratogenic and reproductively harmful chemicals for extended periods of time.

3mspraymount-138829-m.jpgThese chemicals are now known to cause serious harm to unborn children. Plaintiff’s mother was pregnant during the time she was exposed to the chemicals. Her employment involved the manufacturing of semiconductors that required the use of a combination of toxic substances and chemicals, and there is to no way to separate which specific chemical she was exposed to at any give time.

Plaintiff (through her guardian) alleged in her complaint that the clean rooms were clean in terms of protecting the company’s products but not in terms of protecting workers from toxic chemicals. The protective clothing given to workers was also to protect the semiconductors from contamination from the workers and did nothing to prevent the workers from absorbing the toxic material through their skin or inhaling toxic vapors into their lungs.

These toxic chemicals caused plaintiff to suffer severe and permanent birth defects, including a condition known as agenesis of the corpus collosum. Basically, the plate of nerve fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain did not form in the plaintiff during gestation.

Based on warnings from the chemical companies and the generally available scientific literature in the 1980s, defendant knew or should have known that these chemicals were likely to cause to birth defects to the unborn children of workers in the clean rooms who were pregnant. Our Winston-Salem personal injury attorneys can explain that failure to warn of a known danger is one theory of negligence that can be used in these types of cases.

Over the first 14 years of plaintiff’s life, her parents went to numerous doctors and specialists to learn the cause of plaintiff’s condition and see if anything could be done. None of the medical professionals had any clue that her condition was caused by occupational exposure.

Eventually, one family member heard a radio commercial for a personal injury attorney who was investigating cases of birth defects caused by chemical exposure in the semiconductor industry. Her parents promptly contacted the attorney’s office, and they learned the true cause of plaintiff’s birth defects.

Her attorney filed a case against her mother’s employer, alleging that the company negligently caused plaintiff’s personal injury. Her cause was dismissed as having been filed beyond the applicable statute of limitations.

While there was a considerable amount of discussion related to state-specific statutes, the main focus of the holding, which is also relevant to North Carolina cases, involves the tolling of the statute of limitations.

There are several reasons to toll a statute of limitations, including the discovery rule, minority (age), and incapacitation. If the injury could not reasonably be discovered until a time after the statute of limitations had run, the cause of action is said not to arise until the actual discovery occurs.

A statute of limitations also cannot generally run during the time a plaintiff is a minor or incapacitated, because there is no way for him or her to file a suit during the applicable statute of limitations.

For these reasons, the appellate court reversed and remanded the dismissal of plaintiff’s case.

Contact our Winston-Salem personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Nguyen v. Western Digital Corp., Sept. 25, 2014, California Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Ainsworth v. Chandler: On Third Party Interveners in Premises Liability Cases, Sept. 15, 2014, Winston-Salem Personal Injury Attorney Blog

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