California Supreme Court Vacates Lower Court Ruling in Favor of Sony Electronics, Inc.; Prenatal Toxic Exposure Case Can Proceed to Trial.
CALIFORNIA –– The California Supreme Court has issued a decision on plaintiff’s appeal in Dominique Lopez v. Sony Electronics, Inc. (Case No. S235357), holding that the prenatal toxic exposure injury case is not barred by the statute of limitations, and remanding the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
Michael Gurien, a partner at Waters Kraus & Paul and the lawyer representing Ms. Lopez, said, “On behalf of the Lopez family, we are very pleased that the California Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, agreed that Dominique’s claims against Sony for prenatal-toxic injury are not barred by the statute of limitations, and that she will be able to have her day in court.”
Dominique Lopez was born with multiple birth defects and developmental delays. Ms. Lopez’s mother worked at a Sony Electronics, Inc. (Sony) manufacturing plant with toxic chemicals for over 20 years, including the term of her pregnancy. The plant produced semiconductor microchips and other electronics. Ms. Lopez filed suit on January 6, 2012, when she was just 12 years old, alleging that she and her mother were exposed to teratogenic and reproductively toxic chemicals at the Sony plant, resulting in her birth defects.
In opposition to the allegations, Sony filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming Mr. Lopez’s lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations in California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.4 (section 340.4), which provides a six-year limitations period for actions for injuries suffered before or during birth that is not subject to tolling for minority. In opposition, Ms. Lopez argued that the applicable statute of limitations was not section 340.4, but was instead California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.8 (section 340.8), which provides a two-year limitations period for actions for injury or illness based on exposure to a hazardous material or toxic substance. Ms. Lopez argued that her lawsuit was timely filed under section 340.8 because, unlike section 340.4, the limitations period in section 340.8 is subject to minority tolling and she was a minor when her lawsuit was filed.
Agreeing with Sony that Ms. Lopez’s lawsuit was subject to and barred by the statute of limitations in section 340.4, the trial court granted Sony’s motion for summary judgment. A divided panel (2-1) of the California Court of Appeal, Second District, affirmed the judgment.
The California Supreme Court held that, although both statutes of limitations, on their face, would apply to an action for injury caused by prenatal exposure to a toxic substance, section 340.8 was the applicable statute, not section 340.4, because “the toxic exposure statute was more recently enacted, and its language plainly encompasses prenatal injuries . . . .” Because section 340.8 allows minority tolling, the court held that Ms. Lopez’s lawsuit was not time-barred and that summary judgment was erroneously granted.
The California Supreme Court’s decision was filed on July 5, 2018, and was unanimous (7-0). The decision makes clear that, except for actions based on exposure to asbestos or medical malpractice, section 340.8 applies to all actions for injury based on exposure to a hazardous material or toxic substance, regardless of the injured person’s age or when the injury was suffered.
Ms. Lopez’s case will now be returned to the trial court with directions to vacate the order granting summary judgment, after which it will move forward towards trial.
About Waters Kraus & Paul
Waters Kraus & Paul has been representing people injured by dangerous products and toxic chemicals for over 20 years. We seek to hold companies responsible when they disregard the public’s or their employees’ safety and well-being. Waters Kraus & Paul represents children who are born with birth defects caused by their parent’s exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides. Contact us by email or call 866.295.4518 to learn more.