The traditional single claim rule requires a plaintiff to bring at one time a suit for all the injuries arising from the same accident or incident, or risk being barred. In the toxic tort context, the issue is complicated by the fact that an exposure may put a plaintiff at risk for different diseases that have different latency periods, meaning different time periods before the injuries will manifest themselves. Courts have to consider the impact of the statute of limitations, res judicata, and the pros and cons of encouraging premature filings relating to the mere risk of future disease or of allowing a plaintiff to, in a sense, split a cause of action into separate claims arising from the same product, same exposure, and same alleged conduct of the defendant.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court modified its rules on these issues, holding that plaintiffs seeking damages for certain asbestos-related health problems can file separate lawsuits for distinct cancers they may develop. See Daley v. A.W. Chesterton Inc., et al., No. J-98-2010 (Pa. 2012).
In 1989, plaintiff/appellee Herbert L. Daley was diagnosed with pulmonary asbestosis and squamous-cell carcinoma of the right lung. He sued several defendants, and the case eventually settled. A decade later, Daley was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. He sued a dozen asbestos defendants. Plaintiffs conceded that the mesothelioma was caused by the same asbestos exposure that resulted in his lung cancer and pulmonary asbestosis for which he sought and obtained compensation in the 1990's. Defendants (who had not been in the first case, presumably because of the terms of the releases) filed motions for summary judgment, contending that, because Daley previously filed an action for a malignant asbestos-related condition in 1990, Pennsylvania’s “two-disease” rule did not allow him to file an action for a second malignant asbestos-related disease – here, mesothelioma.
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