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Published: Thursday, 5/20/2004

Ohio Senate panel lays groundwork for silica suits


COLUMBUS - An Ohio Senate committee yesterday set the stage for a pre-emptive strike against what some consider to be the next generation of asbestos-like lawsuits.

Like the asbestos bill still awaiting a final vote in the House, this bill would make Ohio the first state to establish a medical threshold that plaintiffs must meet before suing those who exposed them to potentially deadly silica, a component of sand used in foundries, glass-making, and sand-blasting.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Civil Justice, solely with Republican votes, forwarded the bill to the full Senate.

The bill passed the House a week ago and is on the fast track in the Senate for a final vote next week before the chamber recesses for the summer.

"We are on the brink of having a massive number of silica cases with little evidence that we have a silica medical crisis," said attorney Richard Schuster, whose firm represents Ohio defendants in 850 lawsuits.

Like asbestos, silica, when inhaled, can develop into cancer or breathing impairment, which can be fatal.

There are 40,000 asbestos cases pending in Ohio but only 1,000 silica cases.

The bill would prohibit the filing of lawsuits if the plaintiff is not yet exhibiting symptoms of illness.

To make his point that the bill discriminates against lifelong workers, state Sen. Marc Dann, a Trumbull County Democrat, unsuccessfully offered an amendment prohibiting executives earning $250,000 or more from suing if someone intentionally poisons them through the air ducts in their offices.

"We're only burying the rights of people who work on the factory floors who are in daily contact with these hazardous materials, which were known to be hazardous by their manufacturers at the time," he said.

In other action yesterday, the full Senate:

w●Voted 20-12 for a bill adopting regulations set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for prescription and use of RU-486, also known as mifepristone or the "morning-after" abortion bill.

The bill must return to the House for approval of minor amendments.

Republicans argued the bill's adoption would allow the State Medical Board to discipline doctors who violate the regulations, while Democrats countered that the GOP wants to lock the FDA rules into place before the agency loosens them.

w●Voted unanimously to send Gov. Bob Taft a bill targeting eco-terrorists, those who attempt blackmail by going after food products, livestock, or agricultural equipment.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Mumper (R., Marion), increases the penalties for the crime committed if terrorism was its goal.

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