Miami Federal Court Holds Statute of Limitations Expired in Defective Drug Lawsuit

DSC08554-b morguefile username dodgertonskillhauseIn Plascencia v. GlaxoSmithKline, LLC, a Florida woman filed a products liability action against a drug manufacturer on behalf of her minor child and herself in 2012. According to the woman’s complaint, she ingested an anti-depressant medication that was manufactured by the drug company during the first six weeks of her pregnancy. As a result, the woman alleged her child was born in 1996 with numerous heart defects.

In December 1997, the woman’s primary care physician noted in her medical record that the child’s heart condition was “apparently due to” his mother’s use of the pharmaceutical medication. In 2005, the drug manufacturer notified the woman’s doctor and other physicians across the country that a recent study found the drug was associated with an increased likelihood for congenital conditions, including heart defects. A second letter sent by the drug company said another study found that women who ingested the medication during the first trimester of pregnancy increased their risk of delivering a child with a cardiovascular malformation.

In response to the lawsuit, the drug manufacturer filed a motion for summary judgment with the Southern District of Florida in Miami. A motion for summary judgment is filed when there are no material facts in dispute, and one party to a lawsuit believes he or she is entitled to judgment in his or her favor based upon the law. In its motion, the pharmaceutical manufacturer argued that Florida’s four-year statute of limitations for a products liability action had run before the woman filed her lawsuit.

The statute of limitations is the time frame during which an injured person may bring a lawsuit. Although the time period can vary based upon the underlying cause of action, an individual who fails to file his or her claim with a Florida court before the statute of limitations expires is normally permanently barred from recovering any damages regardless of the severity of his or her harm. Florida Statutes Section 95.031(2)(b) says the statute of limitations in a products liability lawsuit begins to run when the facts that gave rise to a party’s cause of action were discovered or should have been discovered. Although limited exceptions exist, the statute of limitations is not typically tolled due to a child’s minor status.

According to the drug manufacturer, the woman knew her child’s heart defect might have been caused by the drug for much longer than four years. The woman countered that the doctrine of equitable estoppel should preclude summary judgment in favor of the drug company and that full discovery on the issue of fraudulent concealment was merited in the case.

First, the federal court examined whether the woman had actual or constructive knowledge that the drug may have caused her child’s injury for more than four years before she filed her lawsuit. The court held that the woman had constructive notice as early as 1997. According to the Miami court, the woman’s knowledge began when her doctor noted that the child’s heart defect was “apparently due to” her use of the anti-depressant drug during pregnancy. In addition, the woman testified in her deposition that she suspected the drug had caused her child’s condition much earlier.

Next, the Southern District of Florida examined the woman’s equitable estoppel argument. Although the woman claimed the drug manufacturer fraudulently concealed the risks associated with the drug, the court held that the woman’s argument failed because she did not demonstrate that the company “successfully concealed the cause of action” and “employed fraudulent means to” do so. The court also stated the drug company’s 2005 physician letters that warned the drug may increase the risk for congenital heart defects refuted the woman’s fraudulent concealment allegations.  The court added that any fraudulent concealment necessarily ended in 2005 when the letters were published.

Finally, the court dismissed the woman’s claim that full discovery was necessary because she agreed to limited discovery, she was offered ample opportunity to object to limited discovery, and the statute of limitations would have run even if she could demonstrate fraudulent concealment on the part of the drug manufacturer prior to 2005. Since the applicable statute of limitations barred the woman from recovering damages for her products liability claims, the Southern District of Florida in Miami granted the drug manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment.

If you were hurt by a defective drug, the knowledgeable attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. may be able to help.  To discuss your case with a knowledgeable Miami personal injury lawyer today, do not hesitate to call Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Plascencia v. GlaxoSmithKline, LLC, Dist. Court, SD Florida 2014

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Photo Credit: DodgertonSkillhause, MorgueFile

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