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A cause of action accrues if plaintiff's injury is discernible on the occasion when he is drenched with the toxic chemical.
William L. Hagerty was accidently soaked with toxic chemicals while doing duty as a Jones Act seaman. He sued for his damages which include pain and suffering, mental anguish due to the fear of developing cancer, and the medical expense of regular checkups to monitor against that disease. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the ground that no cause of action had accrued.
Did the district court err in ruling that no cause of action had accrued?
The court disagreed with the district court. Hagerty did suffer physical injuries and was entitled to pursue his action. Dizziness, leg cramps, and a persistent stinging sensation in feet and fingers were sufficient evidence of physical injury for the accrual of a cause of action. Next, the court held that upon trial Hagerty was entitled to recover damages for all of his past, present and probable future harm attributable to defendant's tortious conduct, which included pain and suffering and mental anguish. The present fear or anxiety due to the possibility of contracting cancer constituted a present fact of mental anguish and also could be included in recoverable damages. However, the increase in the risk of Hagerty contracting cancer could not be included. The court reversed the district court's summary judgment for defendant and remanded for trial on the issue of recoverable damages.