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Ranney v. Parawax Co.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff was exposed to toxic materials while employed with Parawax, causing Plaintiff to be exposed to Hodgkin’s disease. However, when Plaintiff inquired into whether the disease was the cause of the exposure to toxic materials, the doctors consistently told him it was not. Nonetheless, a couple of years later, Plaintiff asked another doctor, and the new doctor confirmed the causal connection between the toxic material exposure and his disease. Plaintiff brought a workers’ compensation claim against Parawax and its workers’ compensation carrier, American States Insurance Company. The industrial commissioner granted summary judgment to defendants based on the fact that Plaintiff’s cause of action was time barred. A state district court affirmed. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A statute of limitations for a workers’ compensation cause of action is triggered when the plaintiff knows or should know that his or her injury is possibly compensable.

    Facts.

    From 1975 to 1982, Joseph Ranney III, Plaintiff, worked for Parawax Company, Inc., Defendant. Due to Plaintiff’s work at Parawax, Plaintiff was exposed to toxic materials, and in 1985, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Over time, Plaintiff inquired from various physicians about if he received the disease due to his exposure to toxic materials. However, the doctors never definitively stated that there was a causal connection. In 1987, Plaintiff’s wife began law school. Around 1987 or 1988, Plaintiff’s wife enrolled in a class that taught the causation of occupational diseases by exposure to toxic chemicals. At this moment, Plaintiff believed that his exposure to the toxic materials at Parawax contributed to his Hodgkin’s disease. In 1991, Plaintiff asked another, new, doctor to inquire into the issue, and the doctor confirmed the causal connection. Subsequently, in 1992, Plaintiff brought a workers’ compensation claim against Parawax and its workers’ compensation carrier, American States Insurance Company. The industrial commissioner granted summary judgment to defendants based on the fact that Plaintiff’s cause of action was time barred under the two-year statute of limitations. A state district court affirmed. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a statute of limitations for a workers’ compensation cause of action is triggered when the plaintiff knows or should know that his or her injury is possibly compensable.

    Held.

    Yes, a statute of limitations for a workers’ compensation cause of action is triggered when the plaintiff knows or should know that his or her injury is possibly compensable.

    Dissent.

    The majority’s holdingis in conflict with its own rational that the purpose of the plaintiff’s duty to investigate his or her claim is to evaluate whether the harm is “probably, as opposed to merely possibly, compensable.” Likewise, this decision is in conflict with the majority’s rational that inquiry notice is established by knowledge of facts that a “reasonably” diligent investigation would expose. Instead, the court should hold that the statute of limitations should be triggered when the plaintiff knows, based on a reasonably diligent investigation, that the injury is compensable. In this case, there is an absence of evidence that would have given Plaintiff a reasonably diligent investigation to obtain knowledge that his injury would be compensable until the time he filed suit.

    Discussion.

    A statute of limitations for a workers’ compensation cause of action is triggered when the plaintiff knows or should know that his or her injury is possibly compensable. Plaintiff claims that inquiry notice should not trigger the statute of limitations. However, the court rejects this argument because a finding that a condition is probably compensable establishes the end of the investigatory process. Further, the court noted that, if it were to adopt Plaintiff’s position, it would stall the statute of limitations until the plaintiff effectively completed his or her own investigation, which is inconsistent with the purpose of the statute of limitations period that creates the outer time boundary for instigating a claim. In this case, Plaintiff was on notice in 1988 the moment he noticed that his disease was possibly compensable by defendants. Thus, his 1992 filing was untimely, and the lower court’s finding in favor of defendants is affirmed.


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