Adams v. American Optical Corp., No. 19-1609 (4th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment for defendants, holding that plaintiff filed his personal injury suit outside the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff, a coal miner, alleged that the respirators given to him by defendants to protect himself from inhaling excessive amounts of harmful coal dust failed to protect him from the lung disease that he developed.
Applying Virginia law, the court held that there is no genuine dispute of material fact that plaintiff's coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) first manifested itself before September 29, 2014. Furthermore, the fact that earlier doctors could not have known his eventual diagnosis when exploring other causes of plaintiff's poor lung function does not create a genuine dispute as to the consistent medical opinion delivered by the experts in this case: plaintiff had CWP prior to September 29, 2014. Therefore, the court is bound to affirm the district court's correct conclusion that the limitations period did not begin to run on October 2, 2014, the date plaintiff first discovered he had CWP.
The court noted that it would be remiss in remaining silent about the manifest unfairness that the court's conclusion poses to plaintiffs, like the one here, who suffer from latent diseases that cause ambiguous symptoms for the first two years or successive harms that fall outside the limitations window. The court therefore joined other state and federal courts in recognizing that Virginia law essentially bars certain plaintiffs from recovery.