What Are Statutes of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations limit the amount of time someone can wait to file a lawsuit. These legal time limits vary by state and also by the type of claim.
State laws often define different time limits for different types of claims. Most important, the clock starts ticking at different times for the two main types of mesothelioma lawsuits:
- Personal Injury Lawsuits: For a claim filed by a mesothelioma patient, the statutes of limitations period begins at the time of diagnosis.
- Wrongful Death Lawsuits: For a claim filed by the estate of a deceased mesothelioma patient, the statutes of limitations period begins at the patient’s time of death.
With few exceptions, people are barred from filing a claim if they wait too long after the statute of limitations period begins to run.
On the long end, the statutes of limitations period for personal injury cases is six years in Maine and North Dakota. On the short end, this time limit is only one year in Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee. All other states fall somewhere in between, with one or two years being the most common limitation.
Courts have long recognized that certain exceptions need to be made for asbestos claims because of the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases. But the fact remains there is a time limit for filing a mesothelioma lawsuit.
That’s why you should consult a qualified mesothelioma attorney as early as possible after a diagnosis or death.
Is My Mesothelioma Claim Within Statutes of Limitations?
If you or your loved one has been injured by asbestos exposure, the length of the limitations period for filing your claim depends on state laws. An experienced lawyer can help you determine which state’s laws will apply to your case.
What State Should I File In?
- States where you’ve lived
- States where you worked and were exposed to asbestos
- States where the companies responsible for the asbestos exposure are located
Don’t guess about whether you still have time to file a claim — talk directly with an experienced mesothelioma attorney. They can review your work history, trace where you were exposed to asbestos and explain all your options for compensation.
Even if you think you have plenty of time to file a lawsuit, you should start the process sooner rather than later. Gathering enough evidence to put together a successful claim will only get more difficult as time goes on.
Applying Statutes of Limitations to Asbestos Claims
Applying statutes of limitations is straightforward in most personal injury cases. A claimant usually knows when the clock starts ticking on the claim because they know when they were injured. But that’s not the case for asbestos personal injury claimants.
It usually takes at least 20 years after asbestos exposure for an asbestos-related disease to develop. Unlike most injuries, the conduct that causes asbestos-related injuries often cannot be traced back to a single moment in time.
Rather, it’s traced to a period of asbestos exposure over time, typically during months or years of someone’s work history.
Statutes of limitations periods for personal injuries range from one to six years, but it takes much longer than that for asbestos claimants to discover their injuries. If asbestos claimants were held to the standard limitations, their claims would be barred before they even realized they were injured.
This is why courts interpret statutes of limitations uniquely for asbestos claimants.
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‘Discovery Rule’ for Asbestos Cases
In general, the limitations clock begins to run when a person is injured. In 1973, the landmark asbestos case Borel v. Fibreboard addressed the difficulty of applying the traditional rule to asbestos claimants. Since then, courts have applied the “discovery rule” to asbestos cases.
The plaintiff in that case was Clarence Borel, an industrial insulation worker who was exposed to asbestos in insulation materials for more than 33 years. In 1969, he was diagnosed with pulmonary asbestosis.
Seven months later, Borel filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the insulation materials he used at work. His condition continued to worsen, and he learned that he had mesothelioma while having his right lung removed in 1970.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recognized the unfairness in applying the traditional statutes of limitations rule to asbestos claimants.
The court noted a line of personal injury cases involving exposure to dangerous substances. Those cases held that a cause of action did not accrue (that is, the statutes of limitations clock did not begin to tick) until “the effects of such exposures manifest themselves.”
The Fifth Circuit also noted the discovery rule applied in medical malpractice cases. Under that rule, “the cause of action does not accrue until the injury is discovered or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered.”
The court decided that the rule was also appropriate for asbestos personal injury cases. An Illinois court later explained it in an asbestos case against Johns Manville: “The cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know of an injury and also knows or reasonably should know that the injury was caused by the wrongful acts of another.”
The Borel case is important because it was the first to hold manufacturers liable for asbestos injuries.
Discuss Statutes of Limitations with an Attorney
Because statutes of limitations are complicated and vary by state, the best recommendation is to find a qualified asbestos attorney who can advise you on your best plan of action.
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Last Modified October 10, 2019