On Wednesday, February 4, 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case Christ v. Exxon Mobile Corp. (2012AP1493). The Court will decide whether the discovery rule will apply to third parties in wrongful death and survival actions.
This case contains wrongful death and survival actions involving nine former employees of Uniroyal manufacturing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The lawsuit was filed against Exxon Mobile Corporation because it allegedly distributed benzene-containing petroleum products to Uniroyal, which contributed to the decedents’ deaths.
The plaintiffs are the survivors (family members) of the decedents who died from the effects of alleged benzene exposure. The survivors are represented by the named plaintiff Christ. The plaintiffs filed suit between four and thirteen years after the deaths of the decedents. Wisconsin Statute §893.54(1)-(2) states that actions to recover damages for injury to a person or to recover damages for wrongful death must be commenced within three years after the injury. The discovery rule pauses this statute of limitations until the person injured knows or should reasonably know they are injured.
The Court of Appeals, Dist. III held that the discovery rule should be applied to Christ of the decedents, the plaintiffs and Exxon Mobile appealed.
Exxon Mobile argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court that the discovery rule was applied by the trial court to the decedents and because their injuries were discovered when they died, that the statute of limitations had run out and barred the plaintiff’s case.
Christ argues that while the injured person is still alive, only their knowledge of if they have been injured or if they reasonably should know that they are injured is relevant. However, they argue, that changes when the injured person dies. Once the injured person dies, whether the family members (survivors) know or reasonably should know that the deceased was injured becomes relevant to determining when the statute of limitations expires. Therefore, in this case the clock measuring whether the statute of limitations has run did not begin its countdown until the plaintiffs knew the decedents died from injuries related to their alleged benzene exposure.
A decision for the case is expected by the end of July 2015.