Statutes of limitations: the special problem of DES suits

Two methods that DES plaintiffs may be able to use to overcome the potential statutes of limitations bar are discussed

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This Note discusses two methods that DES plaintiffs may be able to use to overcome the potential statutes of limitations bar: (1) the discovery rule, and (2) state provisions which toll the statute of limitations for minors.

In 1971, medical studies determined that DES causes a rare type of vaginal cancer in a small number of daughters of mothers who took DES during pregnancy. Subsequently, medical studies determined that exposure to DES can cause other vaginal abnormalities in the daughters, some of which may be precancerous.

As a result of these discoveries, many lawsuits have been filed by these daughters against DES manufacturers. Many DES suits may be barred by statutes of limitations, both because the number of years between the daughters’ exposure to DES in utero and the discovery that DES can cause injuries exceeds the statutory period, and because the cancer or other injuries caused by DES may not develop for many additional years.

This Note discusses two methods that DES plaintiffs may be able to use to overcome the potential statutes of limitations bar:

  1. the discovery rule,
  2. and state provisions which toll the statute of limitations for minors.
  • The Note contends that courts should apply an expanded discovery rule to DES suits to avoid the unfair result of barring a claim before the plaintiff could have known that she had a cause of action.
  • In addition, the Note argues that the injury which causes the statute of limitations to begin to run in DES suits should not be rigidly defined.
  • Finally, the Note urges that courts allow eligible DES plaintiffs to take advantage of applicable state provisions that toll the statute of limitations for minors.

Sources

  • Statutes of limitations: the special problem of DES suits, NCBI, PMID: 7258194, 1981 Spring;7(1):91-106.
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