Virginia Governor Ralph Northam recently signed into law legislation passed by the state legislature which extends the deadlines for which asbestos cancer victims have to file lawsuits against companies they believe are responsible for their diagnosis. House Bill 781 passed unanimously through the House and Senate and will circumvent a decision from the Virginia Supreme Court that ruled the statute of limitations begins on the first diagnosis of any condition related to asbestos exposure.
That ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court came in 2013 from the state’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, Kiser v. A.W. Chesterton, the Court was asked to determine whether the statute of limitations in an asbestos cancer lawsuit begins at the time of a mesothelioma diagnosis or, as in this case, when a doctor makes a separate diagnosis of a non-mesothelioma cancer diagnosis. Virginia, like other states, has various laws on statutes of limitations as they apply to injury claims and the time periods in which they can be filed.
In Kiser, the plaintiff sued numerous asbestos manufacturers and distributors in 1988 for damages related to the nonmalignant pleural thickening of his lungs, as well as asbestosis. 20 years later, the plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of lung cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure. Sadly, the plaintiff passed away from his mesothelioma cancer just three months after receiving his diagnosis, and his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his behalf in 2010 against another group of defendants not named in the 1988 lawsuit.
Attorneys for the defendants argued that “under the indivisible cause of action rule, the current action accrued at the time of Kiser’s diagnosis of asbestosis and pleural thickening and that the action was therefore barred by the two-year statute of limitation.” What that meant is that the two-year statute of limitations the state places on asbestos injury claims begins at the time of an initial diagnosis of any asbestos-related disease, and plaintiffs cannot file additional claims, even if a new condition arises.
As of July 1, 2020, the new law will consider non-malignant conditions as separate injuries to a malignant asbestos-related injury like mesothelioma and will therefore have separate statute of limitations to filing claims. The law is important because of the latency period of mesothelioma, which can be anywhere from 20 years to 50 years before the disease presents symptoms and doctors actually make a diagnosis. During that latency period, patients may develop other asbestos-related conditions and will need vital compensation to pay for medical treatment to fight those non-malignant conditions.
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If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact our office to speak to one of our experienced mesothelioma attorneys about your situation. Our office can help investigate your case and determine if compensation can be sought from negligent parties to help pay for your medical treatment to help you and your family live a more comfortable life.