If You Snooze You Lose: Ninth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Lawsuit Against British Airways Due to Late Filing
On March 19, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision dismissing a lawsuit against British Airways. The family of Papanasam Narayanan filed a suit for damages after Narayanan passed away. The family claimed that the denial of oxygen aboard an international flight accelerated Narayanan’s death.
Narayanan suffered from an advance-stage, terminal lung disease and required supplemental oxygen during the flight. British Airways was notified of his condition prior to the flight and assured Narayanan that he would have access to the supplemental oxygen he needed. However, British Airways denied Narayanan access to the supplemental oxygen. Narayanan sought medical treatment after the flight, but his condition progressively deteriorated and he eventually passed away approximately six months later.
The flight during which Narayanan was allegedly deprived oxygen was an international flight between the United States and India. The lawsuit was filed under the Montreal Convention which is a treaty entered into by member states to provide uniformity in rules relating to international travel. Under the Convention a claim for damages must be filed within two years of the date upon which the aircraft arrived, or ought to have arrived, at its destination.
The flight Narayanan was on arrived December 26, 2008. Thus, under the rule, the family had two years, until December 26, 2010, to file the lawsuit. The lawsuit was not filed until March 7, 2011. Three months after the two year period expired. However, Narayanan did not pass away until six months after the flight arrived. As a result, a question was raised as to whether or not the two year period should start to run from the arrival of the flight or the date when Narayanan died and his claim accrued.
The lower court held that the two year period was a strict rule that always ran from the date of the flight’s arrival and dismissed the lawsuit. The family appealed that decision arguing that the period should be delayed and start from when Narayanan passed away. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did not side with the family and held that the lower court was correct in holding that the two year time period strictly starts from the date of arrival of the flight. As a result, the family’s case was kicked out of court and they never had a chance to present it.
Under the law, claims have a “statute of limitations.” A statute of limitations is a maximum time period from the time of an event within which a claim or lawsuit must be filed. If a person fails to file his or her lawsuit or claim before the statute of limitations expires, his or her claim will be dismissed as “time barred.” This means that the person will be deprived his or her day in court, the opportunity to present his or her case and lose his or her right to pursue the damages he or she may be entitled to.
Under California law, injury claims arising from another’s negligence must be brought in a lawsuit within two years, lawsuits arising from written contracts must be filed within four years from the event giving rise to the claim, lawsuits arising from oral contracts must be filed within two years from the event giving rise to the claim, lawsuits bringing claims for fraud must be filed within three years and medical malpractice claims must be filed within one year of the event or discovery of the claims arising from the event. However, these are general guidelines and an attorney should always be consulted to analyze an individual’s potential claims and the time limits in which a lawsuit must be filed.
There are several rules that can extend the statute of limitations for specific claims and types of lawsuits. There are also differing “statutes of limitations” for claims arising from laws as set forth in those particular laws. Finally, there are certain rules that apply to filing claims and lawsuits against governmental entities which require filing a notice of claim with the governmental entity within a six month period to preserve the right to later file a lawsuit.
Needless to say, the rules controlling the timing for filing lawsuits can be complex. If you believe you have a potential claim or lawsuit, you should meet with a skilled attorney as soon as possible. The failure to do so, may result in you or a loved one losing the right to present your case to a court. The attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group, LLP are available to discuss your potential claim and lawsuit and can educate you regarding the time constraints under which the lawsuit must be filed.