If you have a history of using JUUL® or some other e-cigarette/vaping device, and you're experiencing respiratory illness or other health problems that could be caused by these products, you might have heard that there are deadlines for filing an injury-related civil lawsuit in court. But what if you didn't experience any health issues or notice any symptoms until some time after you stopped vaping? How do these lawsuit-filing deadlines work, especially when serious health problems—including serious forms of lung disease—might not reveal themselves until months or even years after you've stopped using e-cigarettes?
In every state, laws called "statutes of limitations" set a limit on how much time can pass before you must get a lawsuit filed. Different deadlines apply to different kinds of cases, but the impact of failing to comply with the time limit is the same: miss the deadline and you’ve lost your right to sue and get compensation for your losses (damages). But while these deadlines are strictly-enforced, every state has carved out exceptions that can extend the filing deadline. (More on these exceptions later).
A lawsuit seeking compensation for health problems caused by use of vaping products like JUUL® will likely be based on the concept of "product liability." This is a fault theory that can be used to hold manufacturers and others (sometimes including retailers) responsible for injuries caused by defective products.
In most states, the statute-of-limitations deadline that will apply to a product liability lawsuit over e-cigarettes is the same as the one that applies to most personal injury lawsuits. But some states have a separate statute of limitations for product liability lawsuits.
Also, the time limit that applies to a product liability lawsuit can depend on the kind of legal argument you’re making against the manufacturer or retailer. For example, a state's rules could make lawsuits based on “strict liability”—a legal theory that requires no proof of fault—subject to a four-year filing deadline. That same state might have a separate deadline of six years for product liability cases alleging negligence.
Most lawsuits over the safety of e-cigarettes and vaping will argue a strict liability theory of fault, meaning that they would be subject to the four-year period in our hypothetical state. But some people might base their suits on allegations that their vaping-related health problems were the result of some level of carelessness on the part of an e-cigarette manufacturer or retailer. Plaintiffs relying on this latter argument would have six years to file their lawsuit. (Of course, the law in your state could set a much shorter period than four or six years, which is a reason why consulting a lawyer is so important.)
Learn more about how a manufacturer's "failure to warn" can lead to liability, which is the legal argument that has been made in some e-cigarette lawsuits.
In many kinds of injury cases, including those stemming from health risks linked to vaping products, the statute of limitations "clock" might not start running on the date of the consumer's last use of the product. Instead, under the "discovery rule," the clock might start only when the consumer discovers (or should reasonably have discovered) having been harmed by the product. Or the relevant discovery rule could simply provide that the clock starts on the date the person was diagnosed with or started experiencing symptoms of a health problem caused by the product. (Learn more about medical diagnosis in a JUUL®/vaping lawsuit.)
For example, let's say you last used an e-cigarette on December 1, 2017, but you didn’t begin experiencing health problems (symptoms of respiratory disease, for example) until April 15, 2018. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations "clock" might not start until April 15, 2018.
Further clouding the legal picture related to vaping-related illness, in at least one lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc., the plaintiffs have alleged that JUUL® users are at enhanced risk of suffering more serious complications if they end up contracting the coronavirus. (Get more details on the impact of coronavirus on injury cases involving respiratory illness.) If you've yet to file a vaping/e-cigarette case, and you end up developing a separate respiratory condition like a coronavirus infection, key issues like applicability of the statute of limitations—not to mention proving that your lung/respiratory problems were caused by a vaping product and not a separate health issue—become much more complex. This is all part of why early and accurate diagnosis is so important to any JUUL®/vaping case.
It's normal to feel confused about which statute of limitations applies to your potential case, and whether you might be entitled to an extension of any filing deadline that’s looming (or has already passed). It’s not your job to understand complex rules like these, let alone figure out how they might affect your case. An attorney who handles cases like yours will be familiar with the statute of limitations deadline in your state, and can craft a strategy for protecting your rights. Learn how to find the right lawyer for you and your vaping/e-cigarette case.