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Bananas over Conflicts of Law, Multi jurisdictional Statutes of Limitations

We have discussed, in other blog posts, the importance of filing an action before the applicable statute of limitations runs out. Today, we discuss a different twist. What if you are injured in another state, but you have a basis to file the action in Massachusetts? Whose statute of limitations applies? This is a critical question.

Statutes of limitations on state actions vary from state to state. So, in one state, there may be a four-year statute of limitations to bring a car accident/negligence claim, while in another state, you might have only two years. Sometimes the Massachusetts statute of limitations won’t apply, even when you file the action in Massachusetts.

Let’s take a look at a real life example. The Massachusetts case of Lynch v. Stop and Shop was decided on November 6, 2013. There were three defendants. Gerald Lynch was a trucker, and he drove for a company called Pray Trucking, based out of Seekonk, Massachusetts. Stop and Shop Supermarket Company contracted with Turbana and Horizon to get banana shipments from Central America to Massachusetts. That went by ship from Central America to Philadelphia, where the bananas were unloaded by Horizon,and then housed in a warehouse of Turbana. There, they would be picked up by Pray (via Gerald Lynch) for delivery to Massachusetts.

All went well until Lynch’s foot was run over by a forklift while in the Turbana warehouse. He was brought to a hospital in Philadelphia, then later was released and drove the bananas back to MA. He then filed a worker’s comp case against Pray, which was dealt with in Massachusetts. He also continued to treat his injury in Massachusetts.

Lynch then sued Stop & Shop, Turbana, and Horizon in Massachusetts in a suit filed on July 18, 2012, before the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations for torts. The three defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Pennsylvania two-year statute of limitations should apply, and that it had already passed. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. Lynch appealed the decision and the appeals court affirmed. Its discussion helps us better understand this doctrine.

Massachusetts uses an approach to this issue called the “functional approach”. It’s an approach to dealing with conflict of laws, such as when two laws could arguably be applied, but they are in conflict with each other. The functional approach focuses on the practicality of deciding the issue. In the Lynch opinion, the appeals court said:

“Massachusetts 'will apply its own statute of limitations permitting the claim unless: (a) maintenance of the claim would serve no substantial interest of the forum; and (b) the claim would be barred under the statute of limitations of a state having a more significant relationship to the parties and the occurrence.' Anderson v. Lopez, 80 Mass.App.Ct. 813, 815 (2011).”

The Lynch team attempted to distinguish this case from the rule, but to no avail. The court really hitched on to the defendants' cumulative wagon regarding the foreign corporation and “where the accident occurred” arguments. There was no mention in the opinion of Stop & Shop’s legal department being located in Massachusetts (Quincy), nor of its claims department, MAC Risk Management (Braintree). From this case, we can safely say that if you are injured in a jurisdiction, that’s likely the safest place to bring the action and you should probably file before the expiration of ANY of the potentially applicable statutes of limitation.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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