Product Liability Claim Stemming From Alabama Mining Incident Dismissed On Statute Of Limitations Grounds

On August 15, 2011, a belt installer was injured at a mine in Alabama, allegedly because the boom drive jacks on the belt assembly malfunctioned, which caused the boom drive to fall on the worker.  The Mine Safety and Health Administration was called to investigate the incident.  The worker hired Attorney No. 1 to help with his workers’ compensation claim and the workers’ compensation case was resolved on August 2, 2012.  On August 14, 2013, however, the worker hired Attorney No. 2 and that same day, Attorney No. 2 filed a product liability claim against the company that the worker believed had manufactured the belt system, in addition to 10 Fictitious Defendants.  Later in 2013, the alleged manufacturer filed a FOIA request with MSHA to obtain its documents relating to the worker’s incident, and turned over the documents to Attorney No. 2.  During his review, Attorney No. 2 realized that the alleged manufacturer may not be the correct manufacturer of the belt system and fairly quickly determined the correct likely manufacturer.  On February 19, 2014, Attorney No. 2 filed a Substitution of Defendants in state court and served the new defendants on March 17, 2014, who then removed the case.

On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama granted summary judgment to the new defendants on the grounds that Alabama’s two-year statute of limitations for this type of action barred the case.  The court rejected the worker’s argument that the claims against the new defendants related back to the date of filing of the original complaint.  Under Alabama law, a plaintiff can sue fictitious defendants if the plaintiff “is ignorant of the identity of a fictitiously named defendant when, after exercising due diligence to ascertain the identity of the party intended to be sued, he lacks knowledge at the time of the filing of the complaint of facts indicating to him that the substituted party was the party intended to be sued.”  The court concluded that the worker was not reasonably diligent in attempting to discover the identity of the correct manufacturer prior to the filing of his lawsuit.  Within the two-year statute of limitations, the court stressed that the worker knew exactly which machine caused his injuries, knew where that machine was located, knew who had control of the machine, and knew that MSHA had been called to investigate the accident.  The court explained that the worker could easily have requested the information about the manufacturer’s identity from his employer.  As a result, the court dismissed the case.

Back to top