Plaintiff woke up in an Illinois motel room without any feeling in his arms. He was later diagnosed in Missouri with bilateral shoulder impingement syndrome. Four years later, he filed suit against the manufacturer of the ratchet system that allegedly caused his injury. In granting Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the District Court found that Illinois’s two-year statute of limitations, rather than Missouri’s five-year statute of limitations, applied.
The Eighth Circuit reversed:
“This case turns on when — or where in this context — the statute of limitations began to run on Burdess’s cause of action, which depends upon the proper interpretation and application of Missouri’s borrowing statute.” Under Missouri law, a cause of action shall not be deemed to accrue when the wrong is done, but when the damage resulting therefrom is sustained and is capable of ascertainment, defined by the courts as follows: “The issue is not when the injury occurred, or when plaintiff subjectively learned of the wrongful conduct and that it caused his or her injury, but when a reasonable person would have been put on notice that an injury and substantial damages may have occurred and would have undertaken to ascertain the extent of the damages.”
“The parties agree on the foregoing. However, Burdess argues that Missouri precedent requires that both the damages and its cause (that is, the injury) be capable of ascertainment before an action accrues. Under this standard, Burdess argues, his cause of action did not accrue until he was diagnosed with bilateral shoulder impingement syndrome on April 26, 2013, in Missouri and was able to connect his shoulder damage to Cottrell’s ratchet system. Cottrell argues that Burdess places too much emphasis on his subjective knowledge of what caused his injury. Cottrell contends that under the above-stated objective standard, a reasonable person with Burdess’s prior injuries would have been put on notice of the cause of his injury when Burdess woke up in the Illinois motel room unable to move his arms….
“The Powel court notably held that “the statute of limitations begins to run when the evidence was such to place a reasonably prudent person on notice of a potentially actionable injury – that is, that an injury and substantial damages may have occurred. Accordingly, we read the Powel decision to contemplate not only that the plaintiff must objectively be on notice of the damages but also the underlying injury to satisfy Missouri’s capable-of-ascertainment standard. We also think it relevant that the Powel court stated that the evidence must be such that a reasonably prudent person must be on notice of a potentially actionable injury. Accordingly, it is not enough that the plaintiff objectively be on notice of sustained damage, he must also be objectively on notice that the damage is such that another party may potentially be held liable….
At the end of the day, the Court of Appeal could not conclude, as a matter of law, “that Burdess’s potentially actionable injury was capable of ascertainment no earlier than when he received his diagnosis. There are certainly facts, as discussed above, that suggest that a causal connection between Burdess’s bilateral shoulder impingement syndrome and his use of Cottrell’s tie-down ratchet system was capable of ascertainment prior to then. We hold only that, when reviewing all of the facts in this record in the light most favorable to Burdess, the law does not compel us to find, as a matter of law, that this causal connection was capable of ascertainment in Burdess’s Illinois motel room on April 5, 2013. Because contradictory or different conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, it is a question of fact for the jury to decide.”
Burdess v. Cottrell Inc., 53 F.4th 442 (8th Cir. 2022).