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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2004

Measure to limit asbestos claims stalls again


COLUMBUS - The battle over tort reform continued last night at the Statehouse with the speaker of the House accusing the Senate president of reneging on a deal.

In the end, the House refused to rubber-stamp Senate changes to a bill to make Ohio the first state to require those exposed to asbestos to meet specific illness standards before being allowed to sue manufacturers, distributors, and users of the potentially deadly substance.

But House Republicans were angered by the Senate's deletion of language to create a window of asbestos litigation immunity to what is believed to be just two corporations with a presence in Ohio: Crown Cork and Seal, with a plant employing 50 in Toledo, and RPM, with a plant in Medina.

Both companies acquired smaller companies with asbestos liability problems before 1977; the transactions involved less than $15 million in stock or $50 million in assets.

The bill's language would cap their liability at the amount paid for their acquisitions, adjusted for inflation.

An attempt to provide such protection for Crown Cork in Pennsylvania was declared unconstitutional there.

House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) said he believed he had a deal with Senate President Doug White (R., Manchester) that the Senate would agree to a separate bill containing the "successor liability" language in exchange for House approval of the asbestos bill.

Mr. White said he could not produce enough votes among Senate Republicans, who continue to hold out for a much larger overhaul of Ohio's civil litigation system, including caps on jury awards and attorney contingency fees.

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