This case concerns statutory and common-law claims for property damage caused by the migration of contaminated groundwater onto real property, and the proper application of the statute of limitations to those claims. Taygeta brought this action against Varian, the former owner of adjacent property, alleging damage from the migration of contaminated groundwater. The parties agree that the applicable statute of limitations period is three years. The court issued an order, finding as “uncontroverted facts” that Taygeta was aware or reasonably should have been aware of the contamination on its property more than three years before the filing of the Complaint. The court issued an order dismissing the action“as barred by the statute of limitations” and Taygeta appealed, arguing that a cause of action accrues only after the plaintiff has actual knowledge of the harm and notice of the likely cause of the harm.
Massachusetts law holds that a cause of action accrues “when the plaintiff discovers, or ... should reasonably have discovered, that she had been harmed or may have been harmed by the defendant’s conduct.” The discovery rule, an exception to the general rule that a cause of action in tort accrues at the time of injury, is based on the fact that certain wrongs are “inherently unknowable.” When the circumstances are such that the wrong is no longer “inherently unknowable,” the exception ceases to apply and the cause of action accrues. NELF filed a brief in support of Varian, arguing that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the discovery rule would allow plaintiffs to ignore warning signs of injury. Discouraging a plaintiff from bringing a timely action is contrary to the principle underlying statutes of limitations that plaintiffs should be encouraged to bring actions when evidence is fresh and available. The SJC ruled in March 2002 that Taygeta did not have an independent duty to investigate under Chapter 21E; that the statute began to run when Taygeta had actual knowledge of contamination; and that Taygeta thus had a surviving cause of action.