Product Liability Statute of Limitations for Latent Injuries

Courts are increasingly siding with victims when it comes to long-delayed diagnosis of serious or fatal injury resulting from the use of dangerous or defective products.

A lawsuit filed by former NFL football players against helmet maker Riddell has been revived after players took their case to an Appellate Court in the wake of a lower court’s dismissal of the claim as untimely. The players are contending that multiple concussions while wearing the helmets have left them with varying symptoms, including headaches, memory loss, mood swings and blurred vision. The players also allege an increased risk of developing long-term, life-threatening brain injuries, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.helmetinjury-300x222

Riddell argued similar allegations made in a lawsuit against the National Football League in 2012 means the players had knowledge of the alleged damages and associated liability for years, and so failed to make a claim in a timely manner. The lower court agreed. However, the iconic helmet maker is facing a slew of other liability lawsuits, which have made it difficult for the company to find a buyer, the New York Post reported. 

Meanwhile, Reuters News Service reports a New York Appeals Court has voted to revive a lawsuit against a coke oven manufacturer, which alleges Honeywell’s industrial steel ovens contributed to cancer diagnoses among steel workers.

Such cases are becoming more common as consumers gain better understanding of the fact that focus on profits and a lax regulatory environment have allowed some of the nation’s largest companies to make billions of dollars at the long-term cost of the health and welfare of employees and the public. Recent high-profile examples include lawsuits against Purdue Pharma over the opioid epidemic and lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, alleging the company has long known its iconic baby powder is tainted with asbestos.

Cancers and many other health conditions are, in fact, caused by environmental factors, including workplace exposure to dangerous or harmful chemicals or the use of dangerous consumer products.

Delayed Diagnosis and Product Liability in Massachusetts

When it comes to filing a delayed product liability claim in Massachusetts, our product liability lawyers know controlling case law includes Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co. 

In that case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court looked at statutes of limitation as they related to delayed personal injury claims caused by dangerous or defective products. The court rendered its decision based on the “discovery rule,” find that “a claim accrues and the statute of limitations clock commences when a plaintiff knows, or reasonably should have known, that she has been harmed or may have been harmed by the defendant’s conduct.”

However, the court noted a victim may have separate and distinct causes of action, which would trigger separate and distinct statutes of limitations. “when a later-discovered disease is separate and distinct from an earlier-discovered disease, the earlier disease does not trigger the statute of limitations for a lawsuit based on the later disease.”

Such delays are not uncommon. Mesothelioma, for example, has a latency period of 30-40 years between exposure to asbestos and cancer diagnosis. Recent news includes the lawsuits against Monsanto  and its glyphosate-based Roundup weedkiller, which has been linked to the development of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and other cancers. Just last month, CBS News reported a jury awarded $2 billion in punitive damages, after a couple alleged in a product liability lawsuit that use of Roundup during 30 years as a landscaper resulted in his cancer diagnosis. His wife was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma four years later.

Massachusetts Product Liability Claims

In most types of injury cases, the statute of limitations in Massachusetts is three years, including medical malpractice claims (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 4); Personal injury claims (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2A (2016); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 106, § 2-318 (2016)); and product liability (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2A (2016); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 106, § 2-318 (2016)).

These are complex cases and consulting an experienced Massachusetts product liability law firm at the outset of discovery or diagnosis can be critical to establishing a case for damages. Such claims typically result in lawsuits against large corporations or manufacturers well-versed in defending themselves against liability claims. However, those seeking personal injury or wrongful death claims do have a number of advantages in such lawsuits, particularly when they seek experienced legal help. Unlike most injury claims, which proceed on negligence grounds, product liability lawsuits may also proceed on grounds of strict liability or breach of warranty.

A traditional personal injury lawsuit alleges negligence. Proving negligence requires victim to prove defendant breached an owed duty of care, and that compensable injuries resulted. But product manufacturers, wholesalers, marketers, and retailers are held to a higher standard when it comes to product liability. Strict liability holds defendants strictly liable for injuries resulting from the proper or reasonably foreseeable use of their products, without regard to negligence. A breach of warranty claim also alleges damages that result from using a product as intended or foreseeable. A breach of warranty claim may allege breech of an expressed or implied warranty. Implied warranties means a product will be reasonably suitable for its intended use, regardless of whether a written warranty is provided.

The most common Massachusetts product liability claims include:

  • A product was defectively designed or otherwise inherently dangerous.
  • Errors during production or assembly resulted in a manufacturing defect.
  • A product is insufficiently labeled or carries inadequate instructions or warning labels.
  • A product is inappropriately sold or marketed.

While three years may seem like ample time to file a case for damages, seeking immediate legal advice can best protect your rights throughout the process. Giving your attorney ample time to build a case for damages before statute of limitations expires will also best equip your chosen law firm with the evidence necessary to force a company to make a fair settlement offer, which can avoid years of delays and lengthy appeals.

Long delays between exposure and diagnosis may also complicate your claim when it comes to proving cause and effect. Additional delays will not work to your advantage.

If you are the victim of Massachusetts product liability, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.