For easily the 75th time in the last 10 years, Poole & Shaffery prevailed against the Metzger Law Group without paying a dime, this time after turning a trial court's denial of a motion for summary judgement into a victory in the Court of Appeals. In a petition for a writ of mandate, written by Mark A. Johnson and argued by John H. Shaffery, Poole & Shaffery argued that the trial court erred in denying a motion for summary judgement by its client, Treatt USA, Inc. ("Treatt"), because, as a matter of law, the claims of Plaintiffs and Real Parties in Interest, Mr. and Mrs. Linares ("Plaintiffs"), were barred by the statute of limitations. Although Plaintiffs attempted to show cause as to why the Court of Appeals should not issue an order granting Treatt's writ petition during oral arguments on September 10, 2015, the Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision on October 8, 2015, holding that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the statute of limitations.
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 ("acetyl propionyl") during his employment at a food flavoring manufacturing plant in California. He sued several manufacturers and distributors associated with diacetyl and acetyl propionyl.
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. Accordingly, 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 Treatt's summary judgement motion on several grounds, including that Mr. Linares was not subjectively aware that 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 2012, when his symptoms became more "constant."
After taking the matter under submission, the trial court 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 writ 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.
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 September 10, 2015.
During the September 10, 2015 hearing Poole & Shaffery reiterated its position that, as a result of his workplace medical examinations, his removal from occupational exposures to flavoring chemicals in early 2007, and his subsequent medical examinations by pulmonary specialists, Mr. Linares reasonably should have been aware of his lung injury, its physical cause, and its wrongful cause more than two years before initiating the underlying litigation. In questioning Poole & Shaffery's arguments, the Justices focused on Mr. Linares' purported limited ability to speak and understand English, inquiring as to how he could be expected to know he had a lung injury, its physical cause, and its wrongful cause if he could not understand any of the doctors that examined him. Poole & Shaffery satisfied the Justices' inquiry on this issue by arguing that, regardless of Mr. Linares subjective ability to speak or understand English, his numerous medical examinations taken in conjunction with his removal from workplace exposures to chemicals, would have put a reasonable person on notice of the facts giving rise to the underlying litigation. Accordingly, Poole & Shaffery argued that because Plaintiffs failed to diligently pursue their claims when they reasonably should have been aware of facts giving rise to them, their claims should be bared by the statute of limitations.
Conversely, Plaintiffs' counsel argued that Plaintiffs' claims were timely because, as a result of Mr. Linares' limited ability to speak and understand English, he could not recall being informed of his lung injury, its physical cause, and its wrongful cause until 2012. In questioning Plaintiffs' counsel, the Justices rigorously challenged the reasonableness of Mr. Linares inability to recall being diagnosed with an injury or understand the doctors who warned him that his lung injury was caused by workplace exposures to flavoring chemicals between December 2005 and April 2009. Indeed, the Justices pointed out that Mr. Linares' inability to recall being diagnosed with a lung injury prior to 2012 had no bearing on the underlying litigation. Further, the Justices took the position that, regardless of Mr. Linares' limited ability to speak and understand English, a reasonable person in his shoes would have taken steps to ensure he understood the doctors who diagnosed him with a lung injury, informed him of its physical cause, and its wrongful cause between December 2005 and April 2009.
On October 8, 2015, the Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision holding that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The Opinion drafted by the Court of Appeals largely adopted the arguments made by Poole & Shaffery in Treatt's writ petition, as well as during oral argument, in reaching its conclusion that Mr. Linares was aware or reasonably should have been aware of his injury, its physical cause, and its wrongful cause by April 2009. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to vacate its prior ruling denying Treatt's motion for summary judgment and issue a new order granting summary judgment against Plaintiffs.