Intent on Making State a Judicial Hellhole- Maryland High Court Holds Statute of Repose Does Not Apply to Asbestos Claims
The Maryland Court of Appeals recently overturned the state appellate court’s Duffy v. CBS Corp. decision. In the case, which involved asbestos claims for wrongful death, the appellate court held that the state’s twenty-year statute of repose for improvements to real property barred an asbestos claim brought for exposure to the substance in 1970. In overturning the appellate court, the Maryland high court most notably disagreed with the appellate court on the issue of when a cause of action arises.
Maryland’s 20-year statute of repose for improvements to real property was first enacted in 1970. It required any claim relating to an improvement to real property to accrue within 20 years after the improvement was made. The statute was amended in 1991 to include an exemption allowing claims against manufacturers in asbestos-related litigation, but the Maryland intermediate appellate court ruled that any prior asbestos related claim pertaining to an improvement to real property would have to accrue by July 1990 – 20 years after the enactment of the original statute. The lower court ruled that the 1991 amendment could not revive older claims barred as of its effective date.
Because the plaintiff claimed his exposure to asbestos led to mesothelioma, a disease which often takes decades to emerge, the central issue at hand was determining at what point injuries from asbestos arise for the purpose of the statute of repose. Based on undisputed records, the plaintiff worked on insulation containing asbestos from May 3, 1970 until June 28, 1970, making the June 28th date his last possible exposure to asbestos. The plaintiff was not diagnosed with mesothelioma until 2013.
The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the basis that there was no injury that could have led to a cause of action until the asbestos exposure resulted in a disease. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision, also concluding that the injury did not arise until 2013 – well outside the twenty-year limitations period set forth in the statute. The Court of Appeals reversed the earlier rulings, holding that an injury arises at the time of last exposure. Since the statute does not bar causes of action that arose prior to July 1, 1970, the statute would not bar the plaintiff’s causes of action in this instance.
The high court failed to consider the impact of this decision on the already overwhelmed Maryland courts. The appellate court’s decision would have barred a large collection of Baltimore City asbestos extremely old cases if it had been upheld. The Maryland Legislature even held a hearing last October to consider how to manage the large backlog of asbestos cases created by the Angelos firm in Baltimore City. Now, the courts’ doors will swing wide open once again, flooding the state with even more asbestos litigation.