Statute Of Repose Bars Claims That Hexavalent Chromium Exposure Caused Death Of Exposed Worker

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed claims brought by a family of a deceased worker alleging that the worker’s death resulted from lung cancer caused by prolonged exposure to hazardous chromium ore processing residues (“COPR”) at a Maryland marine terminal.  Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that the defendant operated a chromium manufacturing plant that produced COPR, which contains hexavalent chromium, a potent carcinogen.  Beginning in the 1950s, the defendant company used COPR as fill to reclaim land from the Patapsco River to be used by the marine terminal.  The worker worked at the marine terminal from 1973 to 2001 and died in 2012 from lung cancer.

Last Friday, the court granted the company’s motion to dismiss because the claims were barred by Maryland’s statute of repose, which provides, “no cause of action for damages accrues . . . when wrongful death, personal injury, or injury to real or personal property resulting from the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property occurs more than 20 years after the date the entire improvement first becomes available for its intended use.”  The worker’s family argued that because COPR contains carcinogens, it cannot constitute an “improvement in real property.”  The court rejected this argument because with the COPR fill, former river marshland was transformed into an active and thriving marine shipping terminal, thus constituting an improvement.  The court pointed to the statutory exclusion for asbestos-related injuries for support that the legislature intended the statute of repose to protect manufacturers of products other than those containing asbestos (including for products containing hexavalent chromium).

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