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Timing to File an Asbestos-Related Lawsuit in Alabama

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer, and has worked around asbestos or asbestos-containing products, an asbestos-related lawsuit must be filed within a certain time.  This is known as a statute of limitations.  Your asbestos-related lawsuit may be barred if the statute of limitations has expired relative to your situation.  Each state has its own statute of limitations deadline(s).  

The statute of limitations in Alabama is quite complicated and mostly depends on the date of the person's last exposure to asbestos.  The time for bringing a personal injury lawsuit for injuries caused by exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products is two years from when the cause of action accrued.  Code of Ala. §§ 6-2-30(a) and 6-2-38(l).  Alabama used to start the clock on the date of the last exposure.  Garrett v. Raytheon Co. (Ala. 1979) 368 So. 2d 516, 521.  This is problematic for plaintiffs because of the nature of asbestos diseases - it can take decades for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases to manifest after a person's exposure to asbestos. 

Although the Alabama Supreme Court overruled Garrett in January 2008 and held that the two year statute of limitations does not begin to run until there is a "manifest, present injury," the court held that its holding would only apply prospectively.  Griffin v. Unocal Corp. (Ala. 2008) 990 So. 2d 291, 293.  This means that the last exposure to asbestos and "first manifest injury resulting from that exposure" must have occurred after January 2006.  See Jerkins v. Lincoln Elec. Co. (Ala. June 30, 2011) 2011 Ala. LEXIS 102, 7-8.  As this is unlikely to happen concerning exposure to asbestos, the law applicable to asbestos lawsuits would likely be the rule set forth in Garrett.       

On May 19, 1980, the Alabama Legislature amended section 6-2-30 and included a "discovery rule" provision that the cause of action for an asbestos-related injury does not accrue until "the first date the injured party, through reasonable diligence, should have reason to discover the injury giving rise to such civil action."  Code of Ala. § 6-2-30(b).  However, again, the courts held that the law is not retroactive and that before the effective date of the new law (May 19, 1980), if the statute of limitations deadline had already passed, the lawsuit would still be untimely.  Tyson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp. (Ala. 1981) 399 So. 2d 263, 267.  In other words, if plaintiff's date of last exposure was at any time after May 19, 1979, the discovery rule would apply.  See Corley v. Long-Lewis, Inc. (In re Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig.) (E.D. Pa. July 25, 2011) 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83334.  This appears to still be the law in Alabama.   

If the individual diagnosed with the asbestos-related disease passes away due to that asbestos-related disease, the decedent's heirs can bring a wrongful death lawsuit.  A wrongful death lawsuit allows the heirs of the decedent to bring a lawsuit against the defendants as the personal representative of the decedent.  In Alabama, the wrongful death lawsuit must be commenced within two years from the decedent's death.  Code of Ala. § 6-5-410.  However, the courts have held that death will not extend the accrual of the cause of action.  In other words, if the "decedent's cause of action is time-barred at his or her death, then the decedent's personal representative cannot bring a wrongful death action."  Henderson v. Meadwestvaco Corp. (Ala. 2009) 23 So. 3d 625, 629. 
Because there are multiple statutes of limitations, the application of which are case specific, it is important that a person diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, or an heir if that person has passed away, contact us as soon as possible to determine if an asbestos-related lawsuit is appropriate.  Even if it appears that your deadline for filing a lawsuit in Alabama may have passed, it is important for a mesothelioma lawyer who is very experienced and specializes in this type of litigation to evaluate the specific details of your case.  Even if a asbestos or mesothelioma lawsuit in Alabama is not possible, depending on the facts of your case, you may be able to file a lawsuit in another state.  Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason have obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in jury awards and settlements for our clients.  We have successfully brought asbestos-related lawsuits for 30 years.  To obtain a free case evaluation, please contact Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason.