Is There an Exception to The Statute of Repose?
Massachusetts law sets a six-year limit during which any tort action alleging deficiency or neglect in “the design, planning, construction, or general administration of an improvement to real property” must be commenced. The six-year clock begins to run upon substantial completion of the improvement. Unlike a statute of limitation, a statute of repose cannot be tolled except as specifically provided by statute. Nor can the repose period be extended under the discovery rule which deems that a cause of action doesn’t accrue until a plaintiff discovers or with reasonable diligence should discover that they have suffered harm caused by the conduct of another. However, a recent decision from the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts challenges whether an exception to the strict application of the six-year statute of repose might apply in the context of asbestos-related injury claims.
Asbestos Injury Case in Massachusetts
In that case, a worker died of mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos during construction of two power plants in Massachusetts some 30-45 years earlier. The contractor defendant moved for summary judgment arguing that the six-year statute of repose barred the estate’s claim for damages. The defendant contended that the statute establishes a bright line rule and represents the balance struck by the Legislature between the public’s right to a remedy and the need to limit liability for those involved in construction activities. The estate argued that applying the statute to inherently latent asbestos claims would effectively bar them completely.
In denying summary judgment to the defendant contractor, the District Court judge concluded that “it is not at all clear that the six-year statute of repose was designed to bar a category of claims known uniformly to have a latency period of at least twenty years. To so hold would transform a statute intended to limit liability into one that creates absolute immunity.” The decision, however, is not the end of the inquiry. Noting that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has not considered the application of the statute of repose to asbestos claims and the answer from the SJC is expected within the next year unless the Legislature acts to address the issue.
If you or a loved one were injured because of someone’s negligence, contact Attorney Allison now for a free consultation by calling 978-740-9433 or filling out our free consultation form. We look forward to talking to you about your claim.