Jones Act Lawsuit Shines A Light On Statute Of Limitations
A merchant marine who worked aboard vessels from 1944 to 1955 filed a lawsuit in 2017 after he developed an asbestos-related cancer. The defendants in the lawsuit filed for summary dismissal on the basis that the statute of limitations had run out. The plaintiff contended that the statute of limitations did not start ticking down until he received his biopsy. The defendants contended that the plaintiff had filed a similar lawsuit in 2008 and therefore, knew that the condition could be job-related.
The Jones Act and the statute of limitations
The statute of limitations prevents lawsuits from being filed after a specific date. It applies to personal injury cases, criminal cases, and more. In most cases, it isn’t difficult to determine how an injury occurred. If you slip and fall at Walmart and hurt your ankle, you’re not going to struggle to figure out how the ankle was hurt. So, you would have somewhere between 2 and 3 years to file a claim against Walmart depending on your state.
The Jones Act, which applies in special maritime jurisdictions, allows three years to file suit. But when does the timer begin ticking down? In most cases, the timer will begin ticking down at the moment you are injured. However, if the injury requires a medical diagnosis, a reasonable and typical person may or may not know that the medical diagnosis is related to their work. So, in instances where a medical diagnosis is necessary to establish that there is an injury, the clock on the statute of limitations does not start ticking down until the injured becomes aware of the injury or a doctor tells them they have an injury.
Could have and should have
The court ruled that the case could go forward, but there is another element that the jury will have to decide. Another lawsuit was filed by the same plaintiff in 2008 alleging similar facts against the defendants. This will put a wrinkle in the plaintiff’s case. If the defendants can prove that the plaintiff had a diagnosis going back to 2008, then the statute of limitations could start ticking down there. If it does, then it would have run out over a decade ago and the plaintiff and his family will not be able to recover damages from the employer.
The defendants, of course, claim that the plaintiff should have known that his cancer was related to his employment in 2008. Nonetheless, he did not have a firm diagnosis until 2017. The courts generally hold that suspicion of cancer is not the same as a medical diagnosis. In that case, only the diagnosis would be enough to trigger the statute of limitations. So, the statute of limitations could only start ticking down once the biopsy was made.
The court agreed with that argument and will allow the case to move forward.
Talk to a Miami Jones Act Attorney Today
Miami admiralty & maritime lawyer Michael F. Guilford files Jones Act lawsuits on behalf of injured seamen. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help.