Although only 5% of civil writ petitions are granted, the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, recently granted a petition filed by Poole & Shaffery for a writ of mandate in Treatt USA, Inc. v. Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clarita(July 16, 2015, B263117). Poole & Shaffery sought review by the Court of Appeal of the trial court's order denying summary judgment in favor of its client, Treatt USA, Inc. ("Treatt"), based on the statute of limitations defense.
The underlying case, Hector Linares, et al. v. Does 1 through 100, et al. (Super. Ct. L.A. County, 2012, No. BC486916), involved Mr. Linares' personal injury claim of developing obliterative bronchiolitis (also called bronchiolitis obliterans) as a result of occupational exposures to food flavoring chemicals including diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, 2,3-ptenaedionyl during his employment at a food flavoring manufacturing plant in California. He sued several manufacturers and distributors associated with diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, 2,3-ptenaedione ("acetyl propionyl").
According to a 2014 report issued by the Judicial Council of California, during the 2012 and 2013 fiscal year, 1,916 civil writ petitions were filed. Of those 1,916 civil writ petitions, 106 civil cases were decided with written opinion while the remaining 1,808 petitions were disposed of without written opinion. In other words, the Court of Appeal summarily denied close to 95% of the civil writ petitions filed during 2012 and 2013.
In the summary judgment motion, Poole & Shaffery argued that the two year statute of limitations for personal injury claims barred Mr. Linares' lawsuit. The motion relied on evidence that between August 2007 and April 2009, his treating pulmonologists consistently advised Mr. Linares that his lung injury was potentially caused by his workplace exposures to diacetyl and other flavoring chemicals. Under the two year statute of limitations for personal injury claims, Mr. Linares had until approximately April 2011 to initiate his lawsuit. However, Mr. Linares waited until more than a year later in June 2012 to sue the diacetyl and acetyl propionyl manufacturers and distributors, including Treatt.
Plaintiffs opposed the motion on several grounds, including that Mr. Linares was not subjectively awarethat his lung injury was potentially caused by his workplace exposures. Among other things, Plaintiffs argued that Mr. Linares' purported limited ability to read and understand English kept him from actually being aware of his lung injury and its potential cause until November 2010, when his symptoms became more "constant."
At the hearing on the motion, Poole & Shaffery stressed that the statute of limitations required an objective application rather than a subjective application. Accordingly, it did not matter whether Mr. Linares personally knew about the potential causal link between his disease and workplace exposures, but rather, whether a reasonable person in Mr. Linares' shoes would have reason to suspect that potential causal link.
After taking the matter under submission, the trial court subsequently issued an order denying the summary judgment motion. The trial court found that there were triable issues of fact as to what Mr. Linares recalled being said to him about his disease and its potential cause, as well as whether Mr. Linares actually understood what his doctors told him because of his limited English speaking ability.
In the petition, Poole & Shaffery argued that the trial court applied a subjective standard rather than an objective standard by focusing on what Mr. Linares recalled and understood. By applying the objective standard as required under the statute of limitations, Poole & Shaffery demonstrated that no triable issues of fact existed as to what Mr. Linares reasonably should have been aware of his disease and its potential cause given that his treating pulmonologists consistently advised Mr. Linares that his lung injury was potentially caused by his workplace exposures to diacetyl and other flavoring chemicals between August 2007 and April 2009.
Mr. Linares, as the real party in interest, did not oppose the petition.
On July 16, 2015, Division Four of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, issued an alternative writ of mandate and order requiring the trial court to either grant Treatt's summary judgment motion or appear at a hearing before the Court of Appeal to argue why summary judgment should not be granted in favor of Treatt.
On July 29, 2015, counsel for Mr. Linares advised that they intend challenge the Court of Appeal's ruling. Oral argument is currently scheduled to take place on September 10, 2015.