Controversial Ohio Senate Bill Could Complicate Asbestos Lawsuits

Legislation & Litigation

Republican Ohio State Senator George F. Lang is the primary sponsor of a controversial senate bill poised to impact people diagnosed with mesothelioma. The bill would require plaintiffs to supply personal and specific information within 30 days of filing a lawsuit or risk the suit being dismissed. 

Cosponsors of SB63 include OH State Senators Jerry C. Cirino, Bob D. Hackett, Stephen A. Huffman, Bill Reineke, Michele Reynolds, Mark Romanchuk, Michael A. Rulli, Tim Schaffer, Kirk Schuring and Steve Wilson. The bill passed through a split Senate committee in November with a vote of 7-6.

Opponents of the bill argue 30 days is an unreasonable timeline and will prevent many cases from going to trial. Defendants would be able to file a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff doesn’t file the proper information within 30 days of filing. 

Many plaintiffs in asbestos-related lawsuits are veterans who were exposed during military service, as well as firefighters, construction workers and mechanics who develop asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma or asbestosis. Family members also file asbestos-related wrongful death lawsuits.

What Are the Concerns About Ohio Bill SB63?

“It is important to remind this committee that asbestos-related illnesses take decades to show themselves,” Scott Palider, legislative chairman for the American Legion Department of Ohio, reportedly said in written testimony to lawmakers. “Decades.”

If enacted, the bill would require the plaintiff to submit information about when the victim was exposed within 30 days of filing. Required information includes the name of the manufacturer and seller of the product that contained asbestos, dates and the specific location and address of the exposure site. 

“Having a veteran or their surviving spouse know all of this information off the top of their head from an exposure that happened 30 years ago is wrong,” Palider added. “It is cruel. It is an injustice to the veterans and their families that have suffered from asbestos exposure here in the state of Ohio.”

Opponents point out that the information needed would likely be in the hands of the defendants who keep records of manufacturer and seller information. Plaintiffs will have a more difficult time accessing this information. 

“When you’re in the military at 19, 20, you don’t pay attention to the addresses,” David Root, legislative chairman for the Ohio chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a Navy sailor who served in Vietnam reportedly commented. “And even if you did, you’re never going to remember them 40, 50 years later, when you start getting sick.”

Bill Supporters Argue It Will Prevent Over-Naming Companies

Champions of the bill say that it’s meant to protect businesses from being improperly sued. At a committee hearing, lobbyist Mark Behrens with the national U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform said the bill is meant to minimize legal expenses for “innocent companies.”

“It’s saying, ‘Tell us why these companies are being sued,’” Behrens reportedly commented. “How did you pick these 20 companies that you named in the lawsuit? What evidence do you have that they had something to do with your client’s disease?”

The bill states, in part: “The court shall administratively dismiss a plaintiff’s asbestos claim against a defendant who files a motion…if the plaintiff’s disclosures fail to comply…” 

Asbestos was once widely used in America for building insulation, tiles, shipbuilding, car parts, firefighting materials, mining, plumbing and more for its heat and fire-resistant qualities. While asbestos is regulated because of its health hazards, asbestos is still not banned in the U.S.

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