The California Supreme Court recently decided that a special statute of limitations for injury or illness caused by exposure to asbestos does not bar an action for a second disease, mesothelioma, which was diagnosed several years after the original diagnosis of a related pulmonary condition. The asbestos worker was exposed to asbestos fiber in various industrial workplaces from the early 1940's until 1963, when he became a television repairman.
In the late 1970's he experienced shortness of breath. In 1979 the worker was diagnosed with asbestosis, a noncancerous, chronic breathing impairment. He continued to work until 1989 when he retired, at age 65. In 1993 a complaint was filed on workers' behalf against the suppliers and manufacturers of asbestos products for breathing problems, asbestosis and/or other lung damage. In December 1995 he developed abdominal pain and exploratory surgery in January 1996 revealed a cancerous growth in his abdominal cavity triggered by his exposure to asbestos fiber, mesothelioma. On January 30, 1996, the worker filed another complaint in the alleging disability and damages flowing from the second diagnosis or disease, mesothelioma. The Supreme Court of California held that worker was not time barred in filing the second complaint for mesothelioma which was filed more than 1 year after the original diagnosis of an asbestos related respiratory condition. The court reasoned that since "…a plaintiff cannot discover that his disability was caused by asbestos exposure before he suffers that disability, the disability must in all cases either precede or accompany its discovery." Hamilton v. Asbestos Corporation, Ltd., Super. Ct. No. 975884 (Calif. 2000), decided May 15, 2000.