Plaintiff’s Claims Barred on Statute of Limitations Based on When She Learned of Her Injuries U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division, August 31, 2016

Plaintiff Marci Jones filed suit claiming that, during the course of her employment, she suffered personal injuries from being exposed to asbestos, mold and dead animals. The plaintiff was employed by Noble Finance, who rented a commercial building from defendants Andy and Nancy Anderson. The plaintiff’s suit against defendants includes claims for her personal injuries as well as loss of earning capacity and the cost of medical treatment.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting among other arguments, that the plaintiff’s claims failed due the statute of limitations. In Texas, causes of action based on personal injury must be brought within two years of accrual, which is the day the person sustains the injuries. The Texas Supreme Court further addressed the discovery rule in that it is restricted to “to exceptional cases to avoid defeating the purposes behind the limitations statutes. This is applied when the nature of the injury is inherently undiscoverable and is “unlikely to be discovered within the prescribed limitations period despite due diligence.” [Citation Omitted].

In this case, the plaintiff filed suit on June 6, 2014. Therefore, if her claims accrued prior to June 6, 2012, they are barred.  In the plaintiff’s opposition, she argued that she did not learn of her injuries until June 16, 2012 and that the discovery rule saves her claims.

The defendants submitted, among other pieces of evidence, the following in support of their statute of limitations argument:  (i) the plaintiff spoke with an individual at the State of Texas Health Department regarding complaints and concerns for her health regarding the condition of the building she worked in and further stated that she told them their responsibility to have asbestos tests done by law on June 1, 2012; (ii) the plaintiff spoke with an individual at the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding complaints and concerns for her health regarding the condition of the building; and (iii) on an unspecified date in June, the plaintiff states that she inquired “in regard to the asbestos exposure” and “previous possible exposure.”

The plaintiff did not dispute the legitimacy of these statements but instead argued that her claims did not accrue until she was diagnosed and that her letters evidence nothing more than “mere suspicion,” which is not enough to trigger limitations.

The court ultimately disagreed and found that the plaintiff’s written documents evidence something more than her entertaining subjective and unverified suspicions. The court emphasized that not only did the plaintiff state in May 2012 that her working conditions were making her sick, her medical records (and even her own expert report) indicate a lack of diligence on her part. According to the record, the plaintiff reported chest pain and discomfort during an emergency room visit in January 2011 (more than 3 years before she filed suit), and while the records do not indicate a suspicion of “toxic” substances, she attributed it to “stress at work.” The court further held that this record evidences more than a mere suspicion, and reasonable minds could not differ that prior to June 6, 2012, The plaintiff had discovered that there was a causal connection between the plaintiff’s health symptoms and her working conditions. For this reason, the court finds that the plaintiff’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

Read the full decision here.

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  1. This result is not surprising in Texas, a state that has embraced tort reform. In NYCAL, the result would most likely have been very different..

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