Alaska’s Statute of Repose Upheld to Bar Claims Against Pulp Mill Defendant

ALASKA – A Washington state appellate court upheld the trial court’s motion of summary judgment for the defendant Ketchikan Pulp Company (Ketchikan) in a matter involving the plaintiff Larry Hoffman, and concluded that Alaska’s statute of repose barred claims against Ketchikan. Hoffman’s father, Doyle, worked as a welder and pipefitter at the Ketchikan mill in Alaska from 1954 until 1956, and Larry worked at Ketchikan himself as a plumber and pipefitter from 1968 to 1970. The plaintiff alleged that his own work and his father’s work with asbestos products at Ketchikan contributed to his fatal mesothelioma.

Alaska’s statute of repose holds that a plaintiff must bring an action for personal injury or death within 10 years of the date of the last act alleged to have caused the injury or death. The statute does not apply if the injury resulted from gross negligence or prolonged exposure to hazardous waste, and the statute is tolled if “there exists the undiscovered presence of a foreign body that has no therapeutic or diagnostic purpose or effect in the body of the injured person and the action is based on the presence of the foreign body.” The plaintiff argued that all three of these exceptions applied.

In affirming the trial court’s order granting summary judgment for Ketchikan, the court concluded that there was no gross negligence given the lack of agreement among experts about the risks of take home exposure at the time of Doyle Hoffman’s work, and a lack of evidence of what Ketchikan knew about the hazards of asbestos. The court further determined that asbestos was not identified as a hazardous waste under applicable federal regulations, so it could not be considered so for the purposes of Alaska’s statute of repose.  The court concluded that the “foreign body” language of the statute applied only to objects related to health care and not to asbestos fibers present in a person.

Read the case decision here.