Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

PA Supreme Court Ruling Expands Two-Disease Rule for Asbestos Claims

Pennsylvania Supreme Court holds plaintiff can bring two separate causes of action for distinct malignant asbestos-related diseases caused by same asbestos exposure

A February decision by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has implications for individuals facing multiple malignant diseases resulting from the same asbestos exposure.

In Daley v. A.W. Chesterton, Inc., et al., a plaintiff diagnosed with multiple cancers brought two separate lawsuits fifteen years apart to recover compensation for asbestos exposure. The plaintiff brought the first lawsuit in 1990 after he was diagnosed with pulmonary asbestosis and squamous-cell carcinoma of the right lung. This lawsuit was successful.

The plaintiff filed a second lawsuit in 2005 after he was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The defendants of the second lawsuit alleged that the plaintiff was barred from bringing a second lawsuit because the first suit was successful and related to the same asbestos exposure as the second suit.

Under Pennsylvania's two-disease rule, or separate disease rule, an individual may bring separate lawsuits for two different diseases related to asbestos exposure when those diseases develop at different times.

The trial court interpreted this rule to mean that a plaintiff can bring one lawsuit for nonmalignant diseases caused by the asbestos and one subsequent lawsuit for malignant diseases caused by the same exposure; however, it said that the rule did not apply to two malignant diseases. On appeal, the Superior Court vacated the trial court's order, stating that previous court decisions allow for "separate causes of action for distinct diseases due to asbestos exposure."

The defendants appealed the Superior Court ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which upheld the Superior Court decision. The Court held:

          While the separate disease rule initially developed from, and has since been applied to,
          cases involving a cause of action for a nonmalignant disease, followed by a cause of action 
          for a malignant disease, the concerns the rule was designed to address are not limited to 
          situations where a plaintiff suffers one nonmalignant asbestos-related disease and one
          malignant asbestos-related disease.

Thus, as long as a plaintiff's subsequent lawsuit is based on "a separate and distinct disease which was not known to the plaintiff at the time of his first action," and is filed within the statute of limitations, the lawsuit is valid.

Source: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Eastern District, Daley v. A.W. Chesterton, Inc., et al., Feb. 21, 2012.

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