Asbestos Plaintiffs Too Late to Take Advantage of Expansive Maryland Coverage Ruling Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, June 1, 2017
A large group of asbestos plaintiffs failed to file claims seeking more expansive coverage within the applicable statute of limitations. MCIC Inc. (formerly McCormick Asbestos Company, “MCIC”) sold and installed asbestos insulation products. By the early 1970s, it was clear that asbestos was hazardous, and MCIC ceased selling and installing asbestos-containing products in approximately 1973. In the late 1980s, several law firms collectively filed several thousand lawsuits against MCIC asserting personal injury claims resulting from exposure to asbestos-containing products. The cases of 8,555 plaintiffs were consolidated for trial. Those plaintiffs, MCIC, and MCIC’s insurers entered into a settlement in 1994 in which plaintiffs received amounts representing the full amount of coverage believed to be available to MCIC. The settlement agreement provided that if MCIC or the insurers became aware that more coverage was available, they would distribute the value of the additional coverage to the plaintiffs.
In 1997, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals entered a decision in a case called Porter Hayden, 116 Md. App. 605, which greatly expanded the coverage available to certain asbestos plaintiffs under Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies. Specifically, Porter Hayden held that standard CGL policies contained no aggregate limit for claims based on exposure to asbestos during installation or while the policyholder’s operations were ongoing.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys contacted counsel for MIC after the Porter Hayden decision came down, but no motion to enforce the settlement was filed until 2002. The applicable statute of limitations was three years. In Maryland, the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows or should know that she has been injured. Thus, the issue here was whether the plaintiffs knew or should have known of the greater insurance coverage more than three years before they filed their motion to enforce the settlement.
The court held that the evidence showed that the plaintiffs knew about Porter Hayden more than three years before they filed their motion. Therefore, the statute of limitations had run, and the plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred.