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Lopez v. Sony Electronics, Inc.

Filed 7/5/18 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA DOMINIQUE LOPEZ, a Minor, etc., ) ) Plaintiff and Appellant, ) S235357 ) v. ) Ct.App. 2/8 B256792 ) SONY ELECTRONICS, INC., ) Los Angeles County ) Super. Ct. No. BC476544 Defendant and Respondent. ) ____________________________________) When a child is allegedly harmed by in utero exposure to hazardous chemicals, which statute of limitations applies: that for toxic exposure claims (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.8, subd. (a)),1 or that for prenatal injuries (§ 340.4)? The answer determines the viability of this lawsuit. Because the toxic exposure statute was more recently enacted, and its language plainly encompasses prenatal injuries, we conclude it applies here. The limitations period for toxic exposure suits is two years, but it is tolled while the plaintiff is a minor. (See § 352; Nguyen v. Western Digital Corp. (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 1522, 1540-1541 (Nguyen).) Accordingly, the claims here are not time-barred, and the trial court’s entry of summary judgment should be reversed. 1 All statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure unless otherwise stated. 1 I. BACKGROUND Plaintiff Dominique Lopez was born on April 13, 1999, with multiple birth defects, including chromosomal deletion, cervical vertebrae fusion, facial asymmetry, dysplastic nails, diverticulum of the bladder, and a misshapen kidney. She also suffers from developmental delays. For over 20 years, including the term of her pregnancy, plaintiff’s mother worked at a Sony Electronics, Inc. (Sony) manufacturing plant. She allegedly worked with and around “teratogenic and reproductively toxic” chemicals. Plaintiff sued on January 6, 2012, when she was 12 years old. She alleged that she and her mother were exposed to toxic chemicals at the Sony plant, resulting in her birth defects. Seeking summary judgment, Sony argued the action was time-barred under section 340.4, the six-year statute of limitations for birth and prenatal injuries. It urged that, by August of 2000, plaintiff’s mother had reason to suspect her workplace chemical exposure had caused plaintiff’s birth defects. Plaintiff did not dispute this assertion. Instead, she maintained her action fell not under section 340.4, governing prenatal injuries, but under section 340.8, covering injuries caused by toxic exposure. Section 340.8’s limitations period is only two years but, unlike section 340.4, it permits tolling during minority and periods of mental incapacity. The trial court applied section 340.4 and granted summary judgment. A divided panel of the Court of Appeal affirmed. The majority disagreed with the Sixth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Nguyen, supra, 229 Cal.App.4th 1522, which had reached the opposite conclusion. We granted review to resolve the conflict. II. DISCUSSION A. The Relevant Statutes The prenatal injury statute, section 340.4, states: “An action by or on behalf of a minor for personal injuries sustained before or in the course of his or her birth must be commenced within six years after the date of birth, and the time 2 the minor is under any disability mentioned in Section 352 [providing for tolling during minority or incapacity] shall not be excluded in computing the …
Original document
Source: California Supreme Court