Maryland Court of Appeals Holds Pipefitter May Sue Corporation Decades After Asbestos Exposure

Certain kinds of injuries may not be discovered for many years.  In many of these cases, Maryland law provides relief to the victims by allowing them to bring a negligence claim once they realize they have been injured.  In a March 28, 2018 case, the plaintiff filed a Maryland personal injury case against a manufacturing corporation, among others, alleging that he was exposed to asbestos contained in components it manufactured and supplied in 1970.  After his death, his estate was substituted as a party.  The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed.  The matter was then brought before the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

The plaintiff in the case worked as a steamfitter.  In 1970, he worked on steam piping that connected two turbines, which were installed at the same time.  The turbines were insulated with materials containing asbestos.  In 2013, the plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma and filed suit the next year against multiple defendants, including the defendant who was responsible for constructing the turbines.  The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of repose as currently enacted.  The plaintiff responded that his claims arose in 1970, prior to the enactment of the current statute, and as a result, it could not apply retroactively to his claims.

A statute of repose is essentially a deadline cutting off any exceptions that allow plaintiffs to bring suit after the ordinary deadline under the statute of limitations has passed.  The discovery rule is one such exception that allows a plaintiff to bring an action three years from the date he knew or reasonably should have known of the wrong.

The Court of Appeals was presented with two issues.  First, it needed to decide whether the statute of repose applied to bar any recovery for the plaintiff in the case.  Second, it needed to address how the applicability of the discovery rule applies in relation to a latent disease such as cancer.

The court noted the general presumption that all statutes are intended to operate prospectively.  Accordingly, the court ruled that the date of the plaintiff’s injury for the purposes of the statute of repose was his last exposure to asbestos-containing products in 1970, rather than the date he discovered his cause of action when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.  Since the current statute of repose was enacted after the plaintiff’s injury in 1970, the court held that it did not apply retroactively to bar his cause of action.  The court further held that the discovery rule did apply in the context of asbestos-related cases and situations involving the manifestation of a latent disease.  The court therefore reversed the judgment and remanded the case for the plaintiff to proceed with their claims against the defendants.

The accident attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. have successfully represented many plaintiffs in Maryland personal injury cases.  We can assist victims of auto accidents, slip and fall injuries, medical malpractice, and many other accidents caused by negligence.  To discuss your claim with an experienced lawyer, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Examines a Manufacturer’s Duty to Warn Household Members in Asbestos Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 2, 2017

Maryland Court Rules Asbestos Defendants May Be Liable for Failure to Warn About Replacement Parts, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published March 19, 2016

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