Statute of Limitations: Personal Injury-Miller-Jackson V. Mead Corp

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Statute of Limitations: Personal Injury-Miller-Jackson v. Mead Corp.1-The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that employees' cause of action for personal injury accrued when they first developed health complaints, however slight, due to their exposure to carbonless copy paper (CCP).2 The court determined that Virginia law treats a personal injury claim as a single, indivisible cause of action,3 thus the plaintiffs cannot separate their injury from prior symptoms of a disease from its actual diagnosis.4

During the 1980s the plaintiffs suffered from "frequent sinus problems, fatigue, and other health complaints."5 The plaintiffs claimed that they suffered from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).6 They alleged that repeated handling of CCP manufactured by the defendant caused the MCS.7 However, the plaintiffs were not diagnosed with MCS until 1992.8 Although the plaintiffs filed their action in 1993, had the cause of action accrued when the symptoms first appeared during the 1980s, the statute of limitations would bar the claim.9

The court refused to recognize the plaintiffs' argument that they had two separate causes of actions.lo The court relied on Virginia statutes that state a cause of action accrues when the "injury" is actually sustained.ll "Injury" is defined as any "positive, physical or mental hurt."12 From these statutes, the court reasoned that a cause of action may accrue before all the damage from a disease manifests itself and that it is the onset of the disease that triggers the running of the statute of limitations.l3 The court would not allow the plaintiffs to distinguish their prior symptoms as a separate and distinct from the diagnosis of MCS. Therefore, the plaintiffs' cause of action accrued when their various health problems first afflicted them. 14

This case affects two issues. First, theories of liability based on MCS continue to experience difficulty. Even if the plaintiffs succeeded on the statute of limitations issue, courts, under the standard announced in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,l5 have refused to admit expert testimony concerning MCS.16 Second, the case reaffirms Virginia's rule that discovery, for purposes of starting the statute of limitations, occurs when the initial harm surfaces. …