February 15th, 2018
Sweener v. St.-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19893 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2018), is the first reported decision interpreting CPLR § 214-f-the 2016 amendment to the New York statute of limitations applicable to personal injuries or property damage resulting from latent effects of exposure to toxic substances.
This lawsuit is one of several lawsuits before the court arising from the contamination of groundwater with perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) in the Village of Hoosick Falls, New York.. The plaintiff alleged that contamination of the municipal water supply caused her to suffer personal injuries, including uterine cancer. The defendant moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint as time-barred under the state statute of limitations of § 214-c and the recently enacted § 214-f.
CPLR § 214-c provides a three-year period in which to commence actions seeking damages for “personal injury or injury to property caused by the latent effects of exposure to any substance or combination of substances,”. The “clock” for initiating a cause of action for such damages begins to run from the date that the ‘injury’ was discovered or could have been discovered with reasonable diligence.
The statute also provides a limited exception where the cause of injury is not immediately known. CPLR § 214-c(4) provides that if a plaintiff discovers the cause of injury within five years of discovering its injury, The plaintiff may commence an action within one year of discovering the previously unknown cause, assuming the additional conditions are satisfied.
In her amended complaint, Plaintiff alleged her injury occurred in May 2016 when she learned that she had high levels of PFOA in her blood. However, the court ruled that under New York law, the “discovery of injury” occurs “when the injured party discovers the primary condition on which the claim is based. The court went on to say that the fact that there may be a delay before the connection between the symptoms and the time the plaintiff learned she was exposed to PFOA did not delay the start of the limitations period.
Because plaintiff’s cancer was the “primary condition” for which plaintiff sought damages and she was diagnosed in August 2010, the court held her claims expired in August 2016 at the latest even- nine months before she commenced her action. Thus, the court explained, her claims were untimely even under the unknown cause exception of CPLR § 214-c.
The court then turned to the applicability of § 214-f. Because this provision was added to CPLR § 214 in 2016 specifically in response to the PFOA contamination Hoosick Falls, it is commonly called the “Hoosick Falls” exception. This amendment provides that “an action to recover personal damages for injury caused by contact with or exposure to any substance or combination of substances contained within an area designated as a superfund site” under New York or federal law “may be commenced by the plaintiff within the period allowed pursuant to [§ 214-c] or within three years of such designation of such an area as a superfund site, whichever is latest.”
The court ruled that the Hoosick Falls exception applies to this lawsuit involving the PFOA contamination at Hoosick Falls. I guess one cannot blame defense counsel for trying…………