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Statute of Limitations for Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Statutes of limitations set time limits for filing lawsuits. Each state has its own statutes. People with pleural mesothelioma typically have one or two years from the time of diagnosis to file a lawsuit. It is important to consult an experienced mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible.

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For most types of lawsuits, it becomes impossible to file a claim if you wait too long after being injured or wronged by someone else.

All 50 states have statutes of limitations that protect defendants from most types of litigation if enough time passes. This includes lawsuits over pleural mesothelioma.

But judges interpret statutes of limitations differently in asbestos cases. This is because asbestos-related diseases usually take decades to develop.

If there were a time limit of one, two or even 10 years to file a lawsuit over asbestos exposure, no one would ever be able to file a pleural mesothelioma claim. Courts in the U.S. recognize this is unfair, so they apply the “discovery rule” in asbestos cases.

With the discovery rule, the time limit does not start at the time of asbestos exposure — it starts when a doctor diagnoses the asbestos-related illness.

Statute of Limitations Exception for Mesothelioma Claims

In most personal injury cases, a claimant knows exactly when they were injured.

This makes it simple to determine when the statute-of-limitations clock starts ticking. But asbestos-related injuries usually do not trace back to a particular moment in time, so courts use the time of diagnosis instead.

Microscopic asbestos fibers cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, and asbestos exposure causes no immediate symptoms. When people get sick because of asbestos, it is usually because they inhaled the toxic dust a little bit at a time over several months or years.

Statutes of limitations periods for personal-injury claims range from one to six years. In contrast, it can take between 20 and 50 years for someone to discover they have been injured by asbestos exposure.

If the courts held asbestos claimants to normal standards, their claims would be barred long before they realized they were injured. This is why the time limit begins when a person discovers they have an asbestos-related disease such as pleural mesothelioma.

Even though the courts make this exception, however, there is still no time to spare. You should speak with a qualified lawyer as soon as possible.

A lawyer who specializes in mesothelioma cases will know exactly how local statutes of limitations apply to your case. They can also determine if you can file a lawsuit in a different jurisdiction with a longer statute-of-limitations period.

A mesothelioma attorney can also advise surviving family members about how statutes of limitations apply in wrongful-death cases related to asbestos exposure.

Applying the Discovery Rule to Asbestos Cases

The landmark case Borel v. Fibreboard resolved the problem of applying normal statutes-of-limitations rules to asbestos claims.

An appeals court determined that the discovery rule used in other types of cases was also appropriate for asbestos-exposure cases.

Clarence Borel was the first plaintiff to win an asbestos lawsuit, though he did not live to see it.

From 1936 to 1969, Borel was as an industrial insulation worker. In 1969, he was diagnosed with asbestosis caused by 33 years of working with asbestos-containing insulation.

Borel filed a lawsuit, but died of pleural mesothelioma before the trial began in 1971. His widow won the trial, and the case then went up to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its decision, the appeals court referred to other personal-injury cases involving exposure to toxic substances. Those cases had already established that the statutes-of-limitations period does not begin until the plaintiff discovers the effects of the toxic exposure.

The appeals court also referred to how the discovery rule works in medical malpractice cases: “The cause of action does not accrue until the injury is discovered or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered.”

This discovery rule became the model for how statutes of limitations usually apply to asbestos claims.

Plaintiffs have a certain amount of time to file a claim after they knew or should have known of their injuries. In practical terms, the time limit generally begins when the plaintiff receives their diagnosis from a doctor.

Most state laws give you 12 to 24 months to file a personal injury lawsuit after diagnosis. Surviving family members usually have the same time frame to file a wrongful-death lawsuit when a person dies of pleural mesothelioma.


Danielle DiPietro

Danielle DiPietro

As a Patient Advocate, Danielle DiPietro’s mission is to guide patients through the process of pleural mesothelioma treatment, ensuring they receive the best medical, financial and emotional support available. Danielle is accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs as an official Claims Agent, allowing her to provide professional guidance to veterans and family members who need to file a claim for specialized VA benefits.

Last Modified November 28, 2018

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