Silica Can’t Skirt Statute of Repose.

Posted on January 23rd, 2015 by J. Britt PhillipsJ. Britt Phillips

The statute of repose in Tennessee’s Product Liability Act bars a plaintiff’s cause of action against a product manufacturer when the action is brought more than ten years from the date the product was first purchased for use or consumption.  (T.C.A. 29-28-103).  An exception to this applies to exposure of asbestos or silicone gel breast implants.

In Adams v Air Liquide America, L.P. et al., Plaintiff was a sandblaster for thirty years.  It was undisputed that the product he used was first purchased for use or consumption no later than 1991.  This was more than ten years from when Plaintiff brought the lawsuit.  Several of the Defendants moved for summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s silica-related claims arguing the claims were outside the TPLA’s statute of repose.  Plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the statute since silica exposure was not a listed exception like asbestos and silicone gel breast implants.  In its detailed findings, the trial court determined silica-related claims are not similar to asbestos or silicone gel breast implant claims.  The trial court also determined the legislature was specific in the exceptions and had a rational basis to limit the types of exceptions.

The Court of Appeals considered the equal protection challenge by reviewing other cases making similar claims.  The other opinions supported the ultimate holding that “the Tennessee General Assembly had a reasonable basis upon which it distinguished claims related to asbestos and silicone gel breast implants from silica-related and other injuries that also have long latency periods.”  This holding was deemed consistent with the Tennessee Supreme Court’s opinion in Wyatt v. A-Best Products Company, 924 S.W.2d at 106.  There the court supported the exclusion of some latent injury claims and not others.  The Supreme Court stated:

. . . the law need not be in every respect logically consistent with its aims to be constitutional. It is enough that there is an evil at hand for correction, and that it might be thought that the particular legislative measure was a rational way to correct it . . . . The legislature may select one phase of one field and apply a remedy there, neglecting the others . . . . The prohibition of the Equal Protection Clause goes no further than the invidious discrimination.

Based on this and several findings of fact by the trial court, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s claims being outside the TPLA’s ten year statute of repose.