The High Court Down Under Allows Earlier Cause of Action Accrual in Lawsuits Claiming Inevitable Onset of Mesothelioma

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On October 7, 2015, the High Court of Australia dismissed the appeal of a negligent employer and held that where the contraction of mesothelioma was an inevitable result of asbestos exposure, the cause of action accrues shortly after the initial exposure as opposed to when the symptoms manifest.

This ruling came from a case in which the plaintiff inhaled asbestos fibers in the course of his employment. The plaintiff’s mesothelial cells changed quickly after the initial exposure, but the symptoms were not apparent until 2013 or 2014.  In order to bring this cause of action under the Northern Territory Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986, the cause of action must have accrued before January 1, 1987. Otherwise, the claim would be statute-barred.

In agreeing with the Court of Appeals, the High Court determined that the initial changes to the plaintiff’s mesothelial cells lead to the inevitable onset of mesothelioma. This inevitability, the High Court reasoned, meant that the cause of action would begin accruing at the time the cells changed following the exposure. Additionally, the High Court distinguished this ruling from other asbestos exposure cases, differentiating cases that inevitably lead to the contraction of mesothelioma with cases where asbestos exposure merely sets the stage for a subsequent trigger that causes the disease.