Negligence Limitations Period Not Triggered By Date of Explosion in Arkansas Nitric Acid Case

Following a 2012 explosion at a nitric acid plant in Arkansas, the owner of the plant brought suit against two subcontractors alleging that their negligence caused the explosion.  The subcontractors had performed their work in 2011.  Specifically, the owner alleged that the subcontractors “(1) failed to properly and thoroughly clean the interior of replacement oxygen piping segments installed in 2011 at [the] on-site oxygen plant; (2) failed to properly inspect the interior of these piping segments before placing them in service; (3) failed to exercise due care and caution in the installation of the replacement oxygen piping segments; and (4) failed to ensure that the relevant oxygen piping was clean and free of any foreign contaminants.”

The subcontractors filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Arkansas’s statute of limitations for negligence actions barred the suit.  If the relevant date for limitations purposes was the date of the alleged acts of negligence (2011), the suit would be barred, but the plant owner argued that the statute did not begin to run until the date of the explosion (2012), which would make the suit timely.

On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas granted the motion to dismiss and stressed that the three year limitations period began to run, absent concealment of the wrong, on the date that the negligent act was committed, rather than the date that it was discovered.  The court explained that Arkansas courts strictly adhered to this occurrence rule and that it applied regardless of when the full extent of injuries are revealed and regardless of whether there is a time interval between the allegedly tortious act and any damages.

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