Appeals Court finds No Conflict of Laws and Reverses Dismissal Based on Alaska Statute of Repose

Plaintiff Larry Hoffman filed suit in the Superior Court of Washington, Pierce County against numerous defendants alleging he developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. Specifically, Hoffman is alleging take-home exposure from his father working as a welder for Ketchikan in Alaska in the 1950s and 1960s. Hoffman also alleges exposure from his own work at Ketchikan pulp mills in the 1960s and 1970s. Each mill featured steam turbines manufactured by General Electric (GE). Although it operated solely in Alaska, Ketchikan is a Washington corporation, having incorporated in 1947 before Alaska became a state.

Hoffman’s suit included both Ketchikan and GE (among others) as defendants alleging theories of product liability and negligence. After extensive motion practice, the superior court ruled that a conflict of laws existed between Alaska’s and Washington’s respective statues of repose and concluded that Alaska law governed the case. Washington’s statute of repose applies only to claims or causes of action brought against construction, engineering, and design professionals and does not contain any provision relating to personal injuries arising from non-construction claims. Both parties agree that under Washington’s statute of repose, plaintiff’s claim is not barred. Alaska’s statute of repose does relate to personal injury actions but provides exceptions if the personal injury, death, or property damage resulted from (a) prolonged exposure to hazardous waste; (b) an intentional act or gross negligence; [(c) and (d) omitted]; and (e) a defective product.

As Alaska law was applicable, Ketchikan and GE moved to dismiss under CR 12(b)(6) because the Alaska statute of repose barred Hoffman’s claim. Hoffman opposed arguing that Alaska’s statute of repose did not apply, and even if it did, his case should survive due to several procedural exceptions. The superior court ultimately disagreed that any exception applied and granted defendants dismissal motion. On appeal, Hoffman argued that the trial court erred by ruling that there is a conflict of laws and that Alaska’s statute of repose governs this dispute such that it bars his claim.

The Court of Appeals of Washington, Division Two, reviewed this dismissal de novo, and under CR 12(b)(6) standards, found that Hoffman had at least alleged facts that would (i) entitle him to relief; (ii) support a conclusion there is no conflict of laws; (iii) that Washington law therefore applies; and (iv) Hoffman’s claims are not barred. The court found that the plaintiff had at least alleged facts that, if presumed true, could support application of the exceptions in the Alaska statute of repose. Accordingly, as neither Washington’s statute of repose nor Alaska’s statute of repose apply, there is no conflict of laws. As such, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision to dismiss and remanded the proceedings back to the superior court to be tried under Washington law.

Read the full decision here.