Products Liability Law Daily Twenty-year statute of repose bars worker’s asbestos exposure claim against turbine generator maker
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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Twenty-year statute of repose bars worker’s asbestos exposure claim against turbine generator maker

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

Maryland’s twenty-year statute of repose applicable to claims for damages to property and personal injury resulting from the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property applied to bar strict liability and negligence claims against a company that manufactured and installed a turbine generator that included asbestos insulation, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland ruled in a decision affirming the circuit court’s decision to grant the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment (Duffy v. CBS Corp., May 31, 2017, Per Curiam).

A steamfitter who had been employed at the Pepco Morgantown Generating Station at the time that a turbine generator equipped with asbestos insulation was being installed by Westinghouse Electric Corporation (now known as CBS Corp.) was exposed to asbestos during the installation of the turbine generator because he worked in the vicinity of the workers installing the in turbine’s insulation. The insulation work was completed on June 28, 1970, and the turbine generator was operational by July 1970. In December 2013, the worker was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and in March of the following year, 44 years after his exposure at the Morgantown plant, the worker filed negligence and products liability claims against a number of defendants, including the manufacturer of the turbine generator. The manufacturer filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the worker’s cause of action was barred by the statute of repose. After hearing evidence, the court entered an order granting the manufacturer’s motion, which the worker appealed.

Statute of repose. The worker asserted two arguments in support of its claim that the statute of repose was not applicable to his causes of action. First, he contended that his injury "arose" on June 28, 1970, the last day that the asbestos insulation was installed on the generator, and that the session law that contained the original statute of repose included language indicating that the statute did not apply to injuries arising on or before June 30, 1970. Second, he asserted that the turbine manufacturer could not benefit from the statute of repose under an exemption for manufacturers in asbestos-related litigation that was enacted in 1991.

After reviewing the evidence, the appellate panel rejected both of the worker’s arguments, finding that the worker’s injuries "arose" when he learned that he had mesothelioma in 2013. Thus, the provision precluding application of the statute to claims arising on or before June 30, 1970 did not apply. As to the manufacturer’s exemption, the appeals court determined that application of the exemption would be unconstitutional because it would deprive the manufacturer of its vested right not to be sued for causes of action barred by the statute of repose prior to the exemption’s enactment in 1991. In the case at hand, the worker’s injury must have "occurred" on or before July 1990 for his causes of action to survive. Thus, the worker’s claim already was barred at the time the manufacturer’s exemption was enacted. Based on the evidence presented, the appellate court concluded that the circuit court’s summary judgment award in favor of the manufacturer was warranted.

The case is No. 453.

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