Conn. Court Rejects Wrongful Death Claims Against Pratt & Whitney

February 15, 2006

The Connecticut Supreme Court has upheld a trial court ruling that bars wrongful death claims over the deaths by brain cancer of more than 60 workers in Pratt and Whitney’s jet engine manufacturing plant.

The court agreed that the families of the victims missed the two-year deadline under the statute of limitations for bringing such claims against the company, which is a division of United Technologies Corp.

The manufacturer claimed that the action was time-barred under state law because it was brought on behalf of decedents who either had died more than two years before the action was filed or had ceased to remain employed with Pratt and Whitney more than five years before the action was filed.

The families claimed that the applicable statute of limitations was not the wrongful death provision claimed by defendants but rather another law which provides that an action to recover damages for personal injury ”caused by exposure to a hazardous chemical substance or mixture or hazardous pollutant released into the environment” must be brought within two years of the date on which the injury was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.

Brain cancer, known as glioblastoma multiforme, can develop for years before it is diagnosed. The plaintiffs argued that the decedents did not exhibit any symptoms of their alleged exposure to hazardous chemicals and pollutants until after the wrongful death limitation period had expired.

But the court ruled that, even if the result is unfair, the wrongful death statute of limitation law still applies.

“Although we acknowledge that applying the limitation period of § 52- 555 to the present case leads to what reasonably may be characterized as a harsh, and even unfair, result, we disagree with the plaintiffs that the result in this case requires a different construction of the relevant statutory provisions,” the court wrote.

Plaintiffs had also claimed that the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act preempted the state statute of limitations. However, the court rejected that argument as well.

“I’m very disturbed,” Carol Shea, whose husband, John, died in 2000 at age 56, told The Associated Press. “It’s kind of a last hope to do something. I don’t understand how the decision went against us.”

The case is Kathleen E. Greco, Et Al. v. United Technologies Corporation Et Al. (SC 17231) and was released on Feb. 14.

Pratt & Whitney has commissioned a medical study of employees who worked at its plants between 1952 and 2001.

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