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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Statute of Limitations Analysis in Trentadue Extended to Latent Disease Cases

The statute of limitations in negligence and product liability actions is three years. MCL 600.5805(10); MCL 600.5805(13). A claim accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run at the time the wrong was done: “Except as otherwise expressly provided, the period of limitations runs from the time the claim accrues. The claim accrues . . . at the time the wrong upon which the claim is based was done regardless of the time when damage results.” MCL 600.5827.

In Trentadue v Buckler Automatic Lawn Sprinkler Co., 479 Mich 378, 388; 738 NW2d 664 (2007), Michigan Supreme Court rejected the application of the so-called “discovery rule” to toll the statute of limitations in personal injury cases except in very specific circumstances specifically set forth by the Legislature (e.g., claims for medical malpractice and fraudulent concealment) and held:
“We hold that the plain language of MCL 600.5827 precludes the use of a broad common-law discovery rule to toll the accrual date of claims to which this statue applies. Here, the wrong was done when Eby was raped and murdered in 1986. MCL 600.5827 was in effect at that time. Accordingly, plaintiff’s claims accrued at the time of Eby’s death. The Legislature has evinced its intent that, despite this tragedy, the defendant-appellants may not face the threat of litigation 16 years later, merely because plaintiff alleges she could not reasonably discover the facts underlying their potential negligence until 2002.” Trentadue at 407 (emphasis added). The Court also ruled that the word “wrong” in the statute means “when the plaintiff is harmed rather than when the defendant acted.” Id at 388 (citing Boyle v General Motors Corp, 468 Mich 226, 231-32, n5; 661 NW2d 557 (2003)(“The wrong is done when the plaintiff is harmed rather than when the defendant acted.”).

In Bearup v General Motors, 2009 WL 249456 at 7 (Mich App), the Michigan Court of Appeals extended the Trentadue analysis to cases involving latent injuries caused by exposure to toxic substances years earlier. Plaintiffs argued that symptoms alone were not sufficient to put them on notice of their injuries or the cause of their injuries. According to plaintiffs, their cause of action did not accrue until they received medical diagnoses. The Michigan Court of Appeals, however, held: "The period of limitation in a product liability action is three years. MCL 600.5805(13). This three-year period “runs from the time the [claim] accrues,” which is defined as “the time the wrong upon which the claim is based was done regardless of the time when damage results.” MCL 600.5827. To determine whether the statute of limitations has expired, the circuit court must first identify both “the wrong upon which the claim is based,” and the date the “wrong” was done. Our Supreme Court has explained that this calculation is intended to yield “the date on which the plaintiff was harmed by the defendant's negligent act, not the date on which the defendant acted negligently.” Stephens v Dixon, 449 Mich. 531, 534-535, 536 N.W.2d 755 (1995); see also Trentadue, supra at 388, 738 N.W.2d 664 (“The wrong is done when the plaintiff is harmed rather than when the defendant acted.”) (internal quotation omitted). After determining the date on which the plaintiff sustained the injury underlying a claim, the circuit court must determine whether the plaintiff filed a lawsuit within three years of that date."

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