Surviving families of mesothelioma victims won a significant victory in federal court this week. In reversing a lower court decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit confirmed and clarified that wrongful death claims do not begin to accrue until the time of the victim’s death.
Wrongful Death Claim Filed Within Three Years of Mesothelioma Death
The case revolved around the mesothelioma death of Sherri Deem’s husband Thomas. Mr. Deem had served for seven years, from 1974 to 1981, as an outside marine machinist at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington. He had been exposed to asbestos while removing and installing piping insulation, gaskets and other parts and was diagnosed with the disease in February 2015. He died shortly thereafter, in July 2015.
In June 2018, his wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the various companies that manufactured, sold, and distributed the asbestos products that he had been exposed to and which she blamed for his death from mesothelioma. This was more than three years after his diagnosis, but less than three years from the time of his death.
Companies Argue that Mesothelioma Claim Fell Outside Statute of Limitations
In response to her mesothelioma lawsuit, the various defendants petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington for the case to be dismissed. They argued that her claim had been filed more than three years since his diagnosis, and that therefore it fell outside of the statute of limitations. The court agreed and dismissed the case.
Mrs. Deem appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that because she had filed her mesothelioma claim on her own behalf, as a wrongful death lawsuit, the statute of limitations did not begin until the time of her husband’s death. The court agreed and reversed the lower court’s decision.
Court’s Decision Clarifies Difference Between Personal and Wrongful Death Claims
The court’s decision clarified the difference between mesothelioma lawsuits filed as personal injury claims and wrongful death claims, writing, “A wrongful death claim cannot arise or accrue before death even if the cause of death is anticipated.” They went on to say, “Stated another way, the plaintiff in a personal injury action or a survival action for the seaman’s estate after his death assumes the legal posture of the seaman, but by contrast, the plaintiff in a wrongful death action is necessarily a family member or relative of the deceased.
The court’s final word on the subject concluded that, “Federal law supports the proposition that accrual of a wrongful death claim occurs on the date of death, not the date of the seaman’s prior injury, or on a date beyond death when the cause of death is discovered.” Mrs. Deem will be able to pursue her claim for the loss of her husband.
If you have lost someone you love to malignant mesothelioma, you need experienced, knowledgeable people on your side. For information on how the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can help, contact us today at 1-800-692-8608.FREE Mesothelioma Packet