A pro se plaintiff filed a Jones Act suit against Defendants, Dyncorp International and DynMarine Services of Virginia, complaining of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) stemming from a sexual assault that allegedly occurred over 10 years before she filed her complaint. Plaintiff’s hand-written complaint contained no factual or legal allegations other than two phrases: “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (sexual assault)” and a demand of “Amount Undecided” for “lost wages, pain & suffering.” In response to Plaintiff’s suit, Defendants filed motions for summary judgment arguing inter alia that her Jones Act claim was time-barred.
A claim under the Jones Act must be brought within three years after the cause of action arises. A cause of action under the Jones Act and general maritime law accrues when a plaintiff has had a reasonable opportunity to discover the injury, its cause, and the link between the two. The discovery rule applies such that the statute of limitations is not meant to apply to facts that were “unknown and inherently unknowable” to the plaintiff. The law in the Fifth Circuit recognizes potential application of the discovery rule in both pure latent injury cases and traumatic event/latent manifestation cases. Occupational exposure cases present the most common example of a pure latent injury case. In this type of case the plaintiff does not know that he has sustained an injury until years later when the disease finally manifests itself. The discovery rule may operate in such a case because the plaintiff should not be victimized if he has no knowledge that he was injured. Traumatic event/latent manifestation cases are different because the plaintiff sustains both immediate and latent injuries caused by a noticeable, traumatic, occurrence. At the time of the traumatic event, the plaintiff realizes both that he is injured and what is responsible for causing the injury. The full extent of the harm, however, has not become manifest.
Here, the plaintiff last worked for Dyn Marine in May of 1999. That means that plaintiff’s claim, on its face, would be time-barred, unless the discovery rule applied to her claim. The only potential application of the discovery rule was the traumatic event/latent manifestation scenario. The court stated that it was “beyond cavil that a victim of a sexual assault knows that she has received an injury as a result of that tortious act upon its occurrence albeit the full extent of the harm may not have become immediately manifest.” Although the date of diagnosis was not known, the court noted that Plaintiff, for purposes of entering into a settlement in a separate discrimination suit, stated she was taking PTSD medication in 2002. Finally, the court determined that even if it credited Plaintiff’s assertion that the cause of her PTSD only became known in 2009, she still failed to create a issue of fact as to the timeliness of her claim. Her response to the summary judgment motionwas “three sentences long and completely unresponsive to the potentially dispositive issues raised via Defendants’ motion.”
Payton v. Dyncorp International, No. 10-1014, 2011 WL 2669254 (E. D. La. July 7, 2011).
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)