In a case of apparent first impression, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided when a cause of action in admiralty for wrongful death accrues. In Deem v. William Powell Co., 33 F.4th 554 (9th Cir. 2022), a shipyard machinist contracted mesothelioma while employed in repairing naval vessels. His illness was diagnosed on February 20, 2015, and he died on July 3, 2015. His wife filed suit within three years of his death but more than three years after the illness was diagnosed. The federal district court ruled that the claim was time-barred because the three-year statute of limitations began to run at the time of the diagnosis.
The issue on appeal was succinctly stated: "When does a wrongful death claim accrue in a maritime case?" Id. at 559. To decide the question, the appellate court recognized that there is a fundamental distinction between survival actions and wrongful death actions under admiralty law. A survival action is for the benefit of the directly injured victim, while a wrongful death action benefits the decedent’s family members who are deprived of his presence when he dies.Read More