American Optical Corporation v. Estate of Robert Lee Rankin Sr., Mississippi Supreme Court
In Mississippi, the clock starts ticking on a plaintiff’s three-year deadline to sue for a latent injury or disease when the person discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury – not the cause of the injury. That fact was the basis for a reversal of a $14 million jury verdict against American Optical Corporation (AO).
On May 13, 2013, former construction worker Robert Rankin Sr. filed a complaint in Jefferson County Circuit Court against AO, alleging an injury of “lung disease and silica related conditions caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica” while using respirators that AO manufactured. In February 2015, the jury returned a verdict of $14 million in favor of Rankin. The jury found that Rankin did not know nor should he have known before May 13, 2010, that he had the “lung disease and silica related conditions” alleged in the lawsuit.
On appeal, Bradley attorneys Wayne Drinkwater, Michael Bentley and Simon Bailey argued that the trial court erred by not granting AO’s motion for a directed verdict because Rankin’s claims were barred by the three-year statute of limitations. They argued that Rankin’s claims accrued when he discovered his lung injury. Rankin was diagnosed with COPD in November 2007, and in January 2010, his x-ray revealed “pulmonary fibrotic pathology.” Rankin was not diagnosed with silicosis, an occupational lung disease, until January 14, 2014, eight months after he filed his complaint of injury from “lung disease and silica related conditions caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica.”
According to Lincoln Elec. Co. v. McLemore, knowledge of the cause of the injury is irrelevant to the analysis. The accrual begins whenthe plaintiff knew or should have known of an injury.
Rankin’s “long and complicated medical history” was well documented at trial. In oral argument before the Mississippi Supreme Court, Drinkwater argued that it is undisputed that Rankin was aware of and sought treatment for lung disease, COPD, in 2007 and was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrotic pathology in January 2010.
On May 18, 2017, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and rendered the $14 million jury verdict in Rankin v. American Optical, noting: “Because Rankin’s claims are time barred, we reverse the jury verdict, vacate the judgment in favor of Rankin, and render a judgment as a matter of law in favor of AO.”
Although the appeal raised additional issues, the Court found it necessary to address only the statute of limitations issue. This case will most likely have a great impact on other product cases in Mississippi.