First Circuit Addresses Deceased Massachusetts Asbestos-Related Claim

Personal injury suits in Massachusetts that involve cancer are typically medical malpractice actions that involve a misdiagnosis or negligent care. One specific type of cancer, mesothelioma, has a unique status due to the history of employees suffering negligent and reckless asbestos exposure at the hands of their employer or a business owner. Usually those affected were employed in the construction industry or by a company that manufactures products often used in the construction business. Over the last several decades, several civil actions have been filed for those who have suffered from asbestos-related diseases. Recently, the First Circuit Court of Appeals released a precedential opinion in February that upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a suit filed by a trust that was created to assist injured employees’ claims after an asbestos-manufacturing company went into bankruptcy.

In Barraford v. Lydon, the First Circuit addressed a set of claims filed by a trust created as part of an asbestos manufacturer’s bankruptcy plan. While most companies have their liabilities discharged upon plan confirmation, the liability for the company’s asbestos exposure suits remained. The trust was formed to act as an agent for those injured by the exposure. The trust brought a suit on behalf of a group of injured employees, nearly 10 years after the claim accrued. The company claimed that the statute of limitations had run on the collective claims and moved for dismissal of the case.

Statutes of limitations are civil procedure rules that limit the amount of time in which a claim can be filed. In Massachusetts, most personal injury claims must be filed within three years of the injury, or when the injury was discovered or should have been known. In this case, the widow of a worker who died of mesothelioma filed suit against several asbestos manufacturers, but she did not file a claim against the company of this suit because it was still in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings.

The trust responded to the motion to dismiss by arguing that the purpose of the trust was to allow suit at any time until the proceeds of the company’s insurance policy are exhausted. The trial court disagreed with the trust, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s reasoning behind the dismissal. Under the basic statute of limitations, the suit should have been filed within three years of the injured worker’s death. One consideration for the courts was whether the stay placed on all personal injury claims in the bankruptcy case moved the statute of limitations to the date the reorganization plan went into effect. The Court of Appeals focused on the language of the plan, which allowed the suit to occur in its ordinary course. However, the suit was not filed on behalf of the deceased worker’s estate until more than three years past the enactment of the bankruptcy plan, so the extension afforded by bankruptcy laws was unavailable. Primarily, the Court of Appeals wholly disagreed with the premise that the ability to sue was extended indefinitely, absent any express language in the plan to that effect.

The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the litigation experience you need in your medical malpractice or wrongful death action. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

First Circuit Court of Appeals Assesses Excess Insurer’s Duty to Defend, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, January 27, 2015
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Allows Amendment to Trust to Help Avoid Taxes, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, January 20, 2015