Resetting the Clock
RAUL MARTINEZ-FERRER, a California physician and surgeon, was worried about his blood cholesterol level. In March 1960 he prescribed for himself a new anticholesterol drug called MER/29. By September 23 he was unable to read; soon afterward he developed severe dermatitis over his entire body and had to stop work for a month. A medical colleague he consulted suspected that the drug was to blame and advised Ferrer to discontinue all medication. Ferrer's dermatitis slowly cleared up and his vision recovered. Sixteen years later Ferrer developed cataracts. He sued Richardson-Merrell, the drug's manufacturer.
In its defense, the company pointed to a California law which provided that any lawsuit concerning an injury "caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another" had to be filed within one year. A California appellate court was unimpressed. Yes, the court conceded, it had been sixteen years since Ferrer took the drug, and the statute did say that one year was the limit. But the statutory clock wasn't going to be allowed to run down quite so quickly. The real rule was that different clocks would run for different symptoms. The cataracts were new and different effects, separate from the original reaction, and they developed much later. Ferrer's suit would therefore be allowed to proceed.