Harsh statute of limitations denies justice to man’s widow

An Arizona appeals court has denied a widow the right to sue in the state for her husband’s wrongful death. He died of mesothelioma, which is a lung disease often contracted from breathing in asbestos fibers. In this case, he breathed in those fibers while working in a power plant, and his widow sought damages from the designers of the facility.

The problem the court had with the case was that the power plant was located in New Mexico, not Arizona, so the appeals court judges ruled that the lawsuit should be filed in New Mexico. However, the law in New Mexico strictly enforces a harsh 10 year statute of limitations on the type of claim the plaintiff was attempting to make, her claim instantly became dead in the water.

The woman’s husband was exposed to the deadly fumes from 1969 through 1974, and a second time during subsequent work at the plant from 1977 to 1983. Accordingly, applying the 10 year limitation rule, any lawsuit was time barred after 1993, even though he was not diagnosed with the disease until 2008. Sadly, he died soon after he and his wife sued in Arizona.

The lawsuit was ultimately thrown out. The injustice is apparent when it becomes known that mesothelioma can sometimes take as long as 40 years for the symptoms to develop after the initial harmful exposure to asbestos. A person who was exposed to asbestos decades ago may not be aware that they are sick in time to file a lawsuit. By the time they are diagnosed or pass away from a disease, it could be too late to hold responsible parties liable.

A person who is concerned that he or she may have been exposed to asbestos may not exhibit symptoms for many years. Because of this, a person may want to consider filing a lawsuit that would demand medical monitoring prior to the detection of any evidence of illness. This may be especially beneficial in other states that have strict limitations on how long a person has to file a lawsuit.

Source: azcentral.com, “Appeals Court upholds asbestos-case ruling,” Howard Fischer, May 4, 2012