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Bayless v. Philadelphia National League Club

filed: June 5, 1978.



Seitz, Chief Judge, Aldisert, Circuit Judge, and Stern,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Stern

STERN, District Judge.

This diversity action presents the question whether the Pennsylvania two-year statute of limitations bars an action by one who did not discover the cause of his injury within the two-year period. Because there exist genuine issues of material fact as to when the limitations period began to run, we reverse the summary judgment granted the defendant.

The facts, considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, are as follows. Upon his graduation from high school in 1966, Patrick Bayless was hired as a baseball pitcher by the defendant Philadelphia National League Club, popularly known as the Philadelphia Phillies. In May of 1971, while playing on a Phillies' minor league team, Bayless began to experience severe pain in the lumbar-sacral area of his back and in his right leg. He complained to the team trainer and physician who treated him by administering massive doses of the painkilling drugs, Decadron, Xylocaine, and Butazolidin. He claims to have been compelled to pitch while in a drug-induced stuporous condition. Bayless's pitching performance deteriorated. On August 12, 1971, the Phillies gave him his unconditional release.

Within thirty days, Bayless collapsed; an emergency laminectomy was performed. Nonetheless, he continued to suffer pain in his back. In September of 1971, Bayless began to exhibit erratic behavior and to suffer from severe depression. He was thereafter confined in state mental institutions on numerous occasions and has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He alleges that this condition was triggered by the drugs he was administered. He seeks damages from the Phillies for injuries associated with his back condition and for the mental illness he has suffered.

On October 15, 1976, more than five years after ingesting the drugs but, or so he claims, less than two years from the time that he discovered that it was the drugs that caused his mental illness, he filed this action. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the action was barred by the Pennsylvania statute of limitations and by Pennsylvania workmen's compensation law.

The district court ruled that Bayless's claims arising out of his back condition and those involving his mental illness were both governed by Pennsylvania's two-year limitations period for personal injuries, but it treated the two claims separately. It held that the cause of action based upon the back injuries arose no later than September 12, 1971, the date on which Bayless underwent the emergency laminectomy. It was then that Bayless knew of his back injury, and the district court held this was more than two years prior to filing the present suit. Thus, the court held that this claim was time-barred. Bayless does not challenge this aspect of the trial court's ruling on appeal.

With respect to the claim for mental illness, the trial court ruled that the limitations period began to run "when plaintiff knew or reasonably should have discovered the extent of his mental illness." The court ruled that this occurred no later than January 23, 1973, the date on which Bayless was discharged from Napa State Hospital diagnosed, according to hospital records, as a paranoid schizophrenic. In other words, the court held that the limitations period began to run when Bayless learned that he suffered from a mental illness. Accordingly, the court held that this claim was barred as well. It did not consider the alternative ground raised by the defendant on its motion for summary judgment, that plaintiff's claims were barred by the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act. We therefore do not reach this here.

The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for personal injuries, Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, ยง 34 (Purdon) reads, in relevant part:

Every suit hereafter brought to recover damages for injury wrongfully done to the person, in case where the injury does not result in death, must be brought within two years from the time when the injury was done and not afterwards; . . .

Our task is to decide when the limitations period commences to run. The court below held that it runs from the moment that the injury is known to the plaintiff, in this case, from the moment he knew of his mental illness. We hold that the rule in Pennsylvania is that the limitations period begins to run from the time that the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know the cause of his injury.

Analysis begins with the case of Ayers v. Morgan, 397 Pa. 282, 154 A.2d 788 (1959). Plaintiff Ayers underwent surgery for an ulcer in 1948. He was discharged within two weeks but he continued to suffer pains in his abdomen. In January of 1957, he returned to the hospital for tests. At that point it was determined that the surgeon who had performed surgery nine years earlier had left a sponge in his body. Defendant raised the statute of limitations as a bar; the trial court granted summary judgment in its favor. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until Ayers knew, or by the exercise of reasonable diligence, could have learned of the presence of the foreign substance within his body. Because Ayers had averred that he did not become aware of the sponge until January 1957, and he had filed suit within two years of that date, the Court held that he was entitled to go to trial on his claims.

In Irrera v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 231 Pa. Super. Ct. 508, 331 A.2d 705 (1974), plaintiff suffered a fall due to a hole in a street surface. Pennsylvania law required that a notice of claim be filed within six months. Plaintiff gave notice more than six months after the accident, but within six months after ascertaining that the defendant was responsible for road maintenance. The court equated the notice statute with a ...

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