During the 2017 Global Asbestos Awareness Week we seek to highlight important topics in the fight against asbestos exposure and illness. We have blogged about the important topic of statutes of limitations in asbestos cases before and today we revisit the subject of deadlines imposed for filing lawsuits for asbestos injury.
Statutes of Limitation
The “statute of limitations” in a lawsuit is the legal term for the filing deadline. Imposing a deadline on how long a person injured by asbestos has to file a lawsuit is particularly troublesome because of the nature of asbestos-related diseases. Specifically, it often takes decades for these illnesses to manifest physically and be diagnosed. These diseases include mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and others.
The Discovery Rule
In addition, asbestos fibers are invisible to the human eye. It would be too difficult in most cases to even tie the disease to a particular asbestos exposure. The person may not have known he or she was being exposed or more likely would have been repeatedly exposed over many years of employment in a trade in which asbestos exposure was common in the past like shipbuilding or mining.
Statutes of limitations in asbestos cases are normally determined by state law. Because it would not be fair to tie the deadline for filing these kinds of suits to the date of the act that caused it – here the date of asbestos exposure – statutes of limitations for asbestos claims usually begin to run from the time the victim became aware of the diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease.
This approach to the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule.
California’s Statute of Limitation for Asbestos Injury or Death
California has enacted a statute specifically for asbestos lawsuit deadlines. The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury suit based on asbestos disease or injury in the Golden State is normally within one year after the later of:
- The date of “disability,” defined as when the person must miss work in his or her “regular occupation” because of the asbestos injury or
- The date the person knew or should have known through the “exercise of reasonable diligence” that the disability was either caused by asbestos or that asbestos was a contributing factor
For a California wrongful death case based on asbestos exposure, the deadline for filing is within one year after the later of:
- The date of death or
- The date when the plaintiff knew or should have known through reasonable diligence that asbestos was the cause of death or a contribution to it
A Recent Pennsylvania Example
The statute of limitations can be a legal issue in different ways. For example, in a recent federal case in Pennsylvania, the issue was whether it began to run from the time lung cancer was diagnosed or from the time a doctor later attributed it to asbestos.
Remember though, even though an asbestos-related disease is hard to deal with, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible after diagnosis because the statute of limitations will in most cases begin to run on the date of a diagnosis attributed to asbestos. You do not want to miss the deadline for filing a lawsuit that could result in money damages to compensate you and your family for the wrongfully caused disease.