Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

When Does Statute of Limitations Run in Asbestos Drilling Mud Lawsuits?

April 19, 2014

Jackson, MS In any lawsuit, there can be some dispute over when the statute of limitations began running, but in cases involving asbestos drilling mud, the exact time the statute of limitations begins running is even less clear. That is because a great deal of time can pass between the time a person works with drilling mud and the time he or she develops lung problems. Even after the lung problems develop there can be a substantial gap from becoming ill to learning that the asbestos drilling mud may be linked to the lung problems. Those gaps in time make it difficult to know for sure when the statute of limitations has run out.

The statute of limitations is the time in which a person must file a lawsuit claiming harm. The actual time given varies by state, some states have a statute of limitations of only one year while others allow two or three years. Typically, the statute of limitations begins running at the time a person reasonably knew or should have known that a specific event or item caused him or her harm.

In many drug cases, for example, the statute of limitations could start running at the time a drug’s label is updated to reflect a certain side effect. But working with asbestos drilling mud makes the timeline for the statute of limitations much less clear.

First, it can be decades after the exposure to the drilling mud that the employees develop breathing problems or symptoms of lung damage. Even then, those exposed to the asbestos might not realize that it was the asbestos that caused them harm. Some lung problems can be caused by a variety of factors other than asbestos exposure. Furthermore, many employees say they were not warned by their employers about the risks associated with asbestos exposure, so they did not know their lung cancer or other health problems could have been linked to their work.

One such employee was Troy Lofton, who filed a lawsuit against Phillips 66 (now Chevron) alleging his work with drilling mud caused his lung disease. Although a jury awarded Lofton $15.2 million, the defendants appealed. One of their arguments was that the statute of limitations in his case had expired.

The court found that although he experienced shortness of breath in 1995, Lofton was only diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis - which is not always indicative of asbestosis - in 2003 and was not given a definitive diagnosis of asbestosis until 2010, meaning he did not have reason to think his employment caused his lung problems until 2003 at the earliest and 2010 at the latest. Lofton’s lawsuit was filed in 2004, which the Mississippi Supreme Court found was within the statute of limitations.

Despite that finding, the court ordered a new trial, finding that evidence submitted by the plaintiffs was admitted on error.