Widow Challenges Ohio Asbestos Suit Law

The widow of a man who died in 2003 after being exposed to asbestos is challenging an Ohio law which states that all plaintiffs in asbestos-related suits must present evidence by a medical expert who “personally” treated them and can verify that the plaintiff’s health was substantially impaired by exposure to asbestos.

Danny Ackison never personally saw a local physician but was diagnosed by a non-Ohio doctor, working from an X-ray, who told him he was suffering from a thickening of the pleura, a result of asbestos exposure. By the time he died, his illness had not developed into a malignancy and he was never diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer. That means, under the new jurisdiction, his widow is not eligible to sue those responsible for his asbestos exposure.

When Linda Ackison filed the suit in May of 2004, the law was not yet in place. However, it was passed about 4 months later in hopes of easing the backlog of some 40,000 asbestos cases pending in Ohio courts at the time.

Ackison’s lawyer, Vincent Green, told the Supreme Court yesterday that Ohio lawmakers have “unconstitutionally stripped a widow of her right to sue over her late husband’s asbestos-related illness.”

According to an article in the Toledo Blade, the court’s decision could affect potentially “tens of thousands of cases already in the judicial pipeline at the time the more restrictive law took effect.” The case has also drawn the attention of the U.S. and Ohio Chambers of Commerce, as well as manufacturers, insurers, and labor groups.

“By closing the courthouse door, [Danny] Ackison’s rights have been violated …,” said Green. “If it has the effect of destroying a vested right, it is violative of [the Ohio Constitution].”

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