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Accrue? Arise? What’s the difference? Why does it matter?

May 15, 2018 By Erin H. Cancienne

In the case of Duffy v. CBS Corporation et al., the Court of Appeals of Maryland decided whether there was a difference between the words “accrue” and “arise”.  The difference vastly changed the outcome of the case.

The Plaintiff in the case was claiming damages related to asbestos exposure and diagnosis of mesothelioma.  The exposure had occurred no later than June 28, 1970.  However, the individual exposed was not diagnosed with mesothelioma until December 2013.  The lawsuit was filed in March 2014.  The Court considered whether the claim was filed timely under Maryland law.  The Defendant argued that Maryland law would bar a claim that accrued in 2013 because the work that caused the exposure was more than 20 years prior.  The Plaintiff argued that Maryland law would allow such a claim because the claim had arisen in 1970.  The trial court and the Court of Special Appeals agreed with Defendant’s argument, but the Court of Appeals reversed and ruled in favor of Plaintiff’s arguments.

Sometimes the happening of the wrong, the knowledge of it, and the maturation of the harm are simultaneous.  In those cases, determining when the cause of action accrued is simple.  However, when these three events occur at different times, determining when the cause of action arose and when it accrued is complex.  Claims regarding asbestos are precisely these types of complex cases.  In asbestos-exposure cases, the exposure or happening of the alleged harm can extensively predate the knowledge or maturation.

Despite arguments by the Defendant that the terms “accrue” and “arise” are synonymous, which was the finding in the lower courts, the Court of Appeals held that these terms have separate and different meanings. In asbestos cases, the bodily injury arises when asbestos is inhaled and retained in the lungs.  However, the cause of action does not accrue until the plaintiff knows or should have known of the nature and cause of his injury.

Why was this so important?  It’s important because in 1970, a law, the statute of repose, was enacted to prevent plaintiffs from suing defendants after a prescribed date, regardless of when the damages were discovered.  However, the statute of repose specifically indicated it did not apply to claims that arose prior to its enactment.

By distinguishing between the words “arise” and “accrue,” the Court of Appeals allowed Plaintiff to proceed with his claim because the cause of action arose before the statute of repose became effective, even though the cause of action accrued more than 20 years after exposure.