Supreme Court of Minnesota, July 1, 2020
In 2009, Gary Palmer’s (the decedent) pulmonologist informed him that he had calcium deposits on his lungs due to asbestos exposure. On December 24, 2011, the decedent was diagnosed with mesothelioma and in January 2012, he learned that asbestos exposure had caused his mesothelioma. The decedent passed away on March 1, 2015.
On February 23, 2018, Appellant, Deborah Palmer, filed this action against Honeywell International (the manufacturer of Bendix brakes) (Bendix) under Minn. Stat. § 573.02, subd. 3 (2018).
The appellant alleged the decedent was exposed to Bendix brake products while he worked as a janitor at a car dealership for 4 months in 1974. Bendix filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that the statute of limitations barred Appellant’s claim. The district court granted Bendix’s motion finding that Appellant filed her action more than six years after the decedent learned that exposure to asbestos had caused his mesothelioma.
On appeal, the appellant argued that the period of limitations did not begin to run until Decedent could identify Bendix brake products as the cause of his mesothelioma. Id. at *4. The court of appeals rejected her argument, determining that the period of limitations began in January 2012 when the decedent became aware that exposure to asbestos had caused his mesothelioma. Id. at *5. The court of appeals concluded that the statute of limitations barred the appellant’s action because she filed suit more than six years later. Id.
The Supreme Court granted the appellant’s petition for review.
The Supreme Court explained the “some damage” rule it applied here stating, “the statute of limitations begins to run when ‘some’ damage has occurred as a result of the alleged [negligent act].” Antone v. Mirviss, 720 N.W.2d 331, 336 (Minn. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted); see alsoDalton, 158 N.W.2d at 585 (“Until there is some damage, there is no claim and certainly a statute prescribing the time in which suit must be filed . . . can never operate prior to the time a suit would be permitted.” (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted)). This rule has been used before in Minnesota to determine when a claim accrues in an asbestos-related wrongful death action. DeCosse v. Armstrong Cork Co., 319 N.W.2d 45 (Minn. 1982).
In DeCosse the court held that, “because of the unique character of asbestos-related deaths, wrongful death actions broughtin connection with those deaths accrue either upon the manifestation of the fatal disease in a way that is causally linked to asbestos, or upon the date of death-whichever is earlier.” Id. at 52 (emphasis added).
The court here affirmed the lower court citing the rule announced in DeCosse. The plaintiff’s wrongful death claim accrued in January 2012 when the decedent learned that asbestos exposure had caused his mesothelioma. The plaintiff’s claim is therefore barred under the statute of limitations.