A recent ruling by the US District Court for the District of Maryland may have implications for future liability and negligent action lawsuits. The court dismissed claims brought by a deceased worker’s family which alleged that his death resulted from prolonged exposure to a substance containing a powerful carcinogen.

The story goes back to the 1950s. Specifically, the company operated a manufacturing plant that produced chromium ore processing residues (COPR). The company then used the COPR as landfill on which they built a marine terminal along the Patapsco River. The worker in question was employed at the marine terminal from 1973 to 2001. He died from lung cancer in 2012, and it was alleged that his lung cancer was caused by exposure to the COPR. Maryland’s statute of repose was cited as grounds for dismissal of the case.

Wait, What’s a Statute of Repose?

A statute of repose shares some similarities with a statute of limitation, in that the statute eliminates specific legal rights and recourse if action is not taken by a certain deadline. The deadline for a statute of repose operates differently in that it defines the legal right that’s involved in terms of the amount of time a person is allowed to bring a suit. The deadline is also often enforced more strictly than that for a statute of limitation.

Maryland Code, Cts. and Jud. Proc. § 5-108(a) establish a 20-year statute of repose. The legal right involved is as follows: No damages for wrongful death or personal injury can be found that result from unsafe or defective conditions with regard to an improvement of real property if it is more than 20 years after the date that the entire improvement is initially available for its intended usage.

How Did The Case Play Out?

The Maryland case hinged partly on whether the COPR material used as landfill created an improvement to real property. The worker’s family argued that the use of COPR, because it contains carcinogens, cannot constitute an improvement to real property. However, the court rejected this argument and granted the corporation’s motion to dismiss the case. The court’s reasoning was that, because of the COPR fill material, former marshland became an active marine shipping terminal, and this constituted an improvement to real property. The court also noted that, because the statute specifically excludes asbestos-related injuries, it is implied that the manufacturers of products not containing asbestos are protected by the statute. (COPR contains no asbestos.)

While the outcome of this case is a disappointment to anyone who is concerned with the level of recourse available to workers who sustain injury or die due to harmful substances, it’s possible that future interpretations of the statute could be different.

Find Out If You Have a Case

Wrongful death cases can be difficult and complex, with numerous parties and issues, but you may have legal options that you are not aware of.  Maryland attorney Steven Heisler has devoted 25 years to helping grieving families pursue compensation from the negligent people and companies who caused their loved one to sustain injury or death. Steve genuinely cares about every single one of his clients. Contact us today for a free consultation – there’s no obligation, and your information is completely confidential. Call (410) 625-4878 or use our online form to get in touch with The Injury Lawyer.