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Published: Tuesday, 4/10/2012

Dubious asbestos 'reform'

BLADE STAFF

A bill before the Ohio Senate would provide an unwarranted safety net for asbestos makers that have not already sought federal bankruptcy protection. The measure would create new bureaucratic obstacles to asbestos litigation in Ohio courts. It isn't needed.

The bill, which the state House has approved, would empower lawyers for asbestos companies to seek to delay cases in state courts while they demand more information from plaintiffs about actions taken in federal courts. The point seems to be to discourage plaintiffs from pressing their cases.

Advocates of the bill claim Ohio's compensation system for asbestos victims is neither fair nor efficient. They say the legislation they seek would reduce abuses caused by what they call an asbestos-litigation industry.

They note that Missouri's Madison County is home to one of every four lawsuits related to mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer connected to asbestos. Plaintiffs' law firms are allowed to reserve court time there even before cases are filed. Yet in addressing one set of problems, Ohio lawmakers must take care not to create another.

There are established scientific links between asbestos and mesothelioma. Yet over the past 25 years in courts across the country, plaintiffs have had to start from scratch to prove those links, over and over again.

Last year, a judge in Philadelphia ruled that mesothelioma victims there do not have to prove each time how that form of cancer comes from asbestos exposure. Ohio needs a similar standard, not further roadblocks.

Ohio lawmakers accommodated corporations in 2004 when they required plaintiffs to produce more medical evidence in asbestos cases than problematic X-rays. More than 30,000 of 44,000 pending cases were dismissed. New case filings have slowed.

Asbestos victims and their families should not be denied justice. The state has done enough to protect businesses that may have wronged those victims. The new bill should be rejected.



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