Robinson v. Mine Safety Appliances Co. et. al. – Time Limits in Latent Disease Litigation

Statutes of limitations are the way the legislature has worked to keep the courts from becoming clogged with years-old cases that are often not winnable due to lack of evidence.
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This is true in both civil and criminal cases.

In North Carolina, N.C. Stat. 1-52(16) allows three years from the date of injury for someone to bring a personal injury lawsuit. Meanwhile, N.C. Gen. Stat. 1-50(6) doesn’t bar action on product liability claims for six years. Different types of claims may have varying statutes of limitations, and that can change depending on the state you’re in too.

While the courts take these time limits quite seriously, there are some situations in which they may “toll” or lengthen the window of time in which a claim may be filed. Generally, the clock starts ticking on these claims from the time at which the injury occurred – or plaintiff should have known it occurred. So for example, car accident-related injuries will almost always be known or knowable from the date of the crash, so that’s when the statute of limitations clock starts ticking. However, in cases where there is a latent disease – such as mesothelioma or silicosis – a person may be seemingly healthy for decades after exposure, and only much later learn the extent to which exposure to asbestos or silica dust sickened them.

The case of Robinson v. Mine Safety Appliances Co. et al. deals with a man who was diagnosed with silicosis years after spending decades working with sandblasters in spraying machines.

The sand in these machines is known to break down into silica dust. If it’s inhaled, it causes silicosis, which is an incurable lung disease. This is the only known cause of silicosis, and plaintiff alleged he had no other exposure aside through occupation.

By 1997, plaintiff was aware that sandblasting could result in silicosis. The following year, he visited his primary care doctor after coughing up white mucus. Then in 2002, he again went to the doctor for a bout of bronchitis.

Within five years, three doctors concurred plaintiff suffered from silicosis. In 2007, he was rushed to the emergency room for chest pain. The cause was determined to be related to silicosis from his sandblasting – or at least that’s what it says in patient’s medical chart.

However, plaintiff alleges he was not told by doctors that he had silicosis until 2011, when doctors conducted a biopsy on his lung.

In 2012, plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against more than a thousand entities that designed, manufactured or marketed silica-related products.

However, trial court ultimately granted summary judgment to defendants and plaintiff affirmed. The courts were asked to weigh whether plaintiff knew – or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known – that numerous silica-related products damaged his lung. If he wasn’t expected to know until 2011, then the plaintiff was timely with his claim. However, if he should have known back in 2002, then his claim was time-barred by the state’s statute of limitations.

The court concluded plaintiff should have known of the condition by 2007, which meant his claim was time-barred.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Robinson v. Mine Safety Appliances Co. et al., Aug. 3, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Report: 135 People Die Annually in U.S. School Bus Crashes, Aug. 4, 2015, Winston-Salem Injury Lawyer Blog

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