Court rejects defense to asbestos suit based on statute of repose

Virtually every state in the Union, including North Carolina, has passed what is called a “statute of repose.” Among other things, statutes of repose apply to lawsuits for injuries alleged to have arisen out of a defective condition in a product.

In a ruling that may have implications for asbestos victims in North Carolina and elsewhere, a state appellate court ruled that its state’s statute does not bar claims for exposure to asbestos-containing products brought by the widow of a man who died after working around asbestos.

The defendants are an asbestos installer, an electric power company and two breweries. The plaintiff alleged that her husband was exposed to asbestos fibers while he was installing and replacing pipes and frames at the breweries and the power company. The defendants argued that such claims are barred by Wisconsin’s ten-year statute of repose. The trial court agreed with this argument and dismissed the claims against the four defendants.

On appeal, the argument was rejected. The court concluded that the plaintiff’s work was maintenance and repairs and did not constitute improvements to the real estate, meaning that the 10-year statute of limitation in question did not apply. None of the defendants was able to provide evidence that the plaintiff’s work enlarged or improved the facilities where he had worked.

State courts are not bound by the decisions of courts in other states, but the reasoning in this case seems likely to be accepted as persuasive in other product liability cases where a statute of repose is raised as a defense. Persons who believe that they or a loved one may have a claim for damages caused by asbestos product exposure but who also believe that the claim may have been made stale by the expiration of a statute of limitation or repose should contact an attorney who specializes in such cases.

A knowledgeable lawyer can provide an evaluation of the facts and the laws that may apply and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost income and loss of companionship.

Source: Claims Journal, “Asbestos Lawsuit Reinstated by Wisconsin Appeals Court,” Todd Richmond, Dec. 28, 2015