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Schiele v. Hobart Corp

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, a meat wrapper, alleged that she developed grave lung ailments resulting from using Hobart Corporation’s (Defendant) machine. The trial court granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment because the two-year statute of limitations had expired. The Supreme Court of Oregon reversed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The statute of limitations begins to run when a reasonably prudent person realizes her injury or condition, and discovers the role the defendant played in causing his or her condition.

    Facts. Plaintiff worked as a meat wrapper for a Portland, Oregon company for approximately twenty-six years. In 1972, the company purchased a meat-wrapping machine that utilized a ventilator. The machine cut a type of meat-wrapping film that contained polyvinyl chloride (manufactured by the co-defendant chemical company). Plaintiff had been in good health prior to the time of the purchase. Shortly after she began using the device, she developed an array of health problems. Her condition worsened during her final year of employment. Almost immediately upon her leaving the job she was hospitalized with pneumonia. Her doctors informed her, in April, 1974, that tests indicated polyvinyl chloride fumes were the possible cause of her condition. She filed her action in March, 1976. Given these dates, Plaintiff contended that her filing fell within the statute of limitations. Defendants claim that the statute of limitations began to run when she first became aware of the possible connection
    between her symptoms and the cause of her illness, in early March, 1974 – thus missing the filing window permitted by the statute of limitations.

    Issue. Did the statute of limitations expire, thus barring Plaintiff’s action for recovery?

    Held. No. The court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded the case for trial.

    Discussion. The question of when a statute of limitations begins to runs is one of precision and is a matter of law. A party moving for summary judgment must establish that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Thus, the precise dates of the onset of illness, informing a patient of the cause of that illness, and the filing of an action are of great import. As the Schiele court noted, “[t]he traditional purposes of statutes of limitations require the assertion of claims within a specified period of time after notice of the invasion of legal rights”(emphasis added). The court noted that mere knowledge of symptoms was insufficient as to fulfilling the notice requirement, thus allowing the statute of limitations to toll. As the court stated, “[w]e do not believe the legislature intended the statute be applied in a manner which would require one to file an action for temporary sickness or discomfort or risk the loss of a ri
    ght of action for permanent injury.” The court does, however, assign to a potential plaintiff the responsibility of reasonably assessing their condition. “Of course, one’s condition may deteriorate to the point where a delay in seeking medical attention is no longer reasonable and to further such delay would be to charge the individual with any knowledge which a medical examination would otherwise have disclosed.” The standard employed is an objective one: “[i]f knowledge of the occupational disease, its symptoms, and its causes is widespread among persons similarly situated to plaintiff, then . . .plaintiff, as a reasonable person, should have recognized her condition for what it was and brought the action within the application period of limitation following the onset of symptoms.”


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