COLUMBUS The Ohio Supreme Court today upheld a state law preventing lawsuits against manufacturers 10 years after they deliver finished products that later malfunction.
The court, however, struck down a provision that would have barred the courthouse door to Douglas Groch, of Rossford, a General Motors Powertrain employee whose right forearm and wrist were injured by a 28-year-old trim press.
The court found that the new law could not retroactively apply to Mr. Groch because his injury occurred just 34 days before Senate Bill 80 took effect on April 7, 2005. The law effectively prevented Mr. Groch from suing GM and the equipment s manufacturer, the Kard Corp. and its Wisconsin-based successor, Racine Federated Inc.
The law "operates unreasonably as applied to (Mr. Groch and his daughter, Chloe) because it provided them with only 34 days to commence their suit, with the consequence that they lost their cause of action if they did not file suit within 34 days," wrote Justice Maureen O Connor for the majority. "When we look to the other provisions of (state law), we determine that a reasonable time to commence a suit in this situation should have been two years from the date of the injury."
In its latest ruling largely upholding business-backed legislative limits on litigation, the 6-1 decision also found that employers may seek to recoup their own medical and other expenses from settlements or verdicts awarded to injured workers from other defendants.
While agreeing with some portions of the decision, Justice Paul Pfeifer chastised his colleagues for again disagreeing with one of its own prior decisions, characterizing the majority s rationale as written by Justice O Connor as "legal mumbo jumbo."
He argued in his dissenting opinion that the decision potentially affects anyone using any product more than 10 years old, whether it s an elevator, lawnmower, or airplane.
"It is a harrowing thought that the products we use today that may be ticking time bombs be they food additives, cell phones, automobiles after 10 years can leave us profoundly injured with no hope of recovery against the tortfeasor," he wrote.
"For manufacturers, the bomb stops ticking at 10 years," he wrote. "For Ohio s consumers, once but no longer protected by the Ohio Constitution, the ticking continues."
The court issued its ruling at the request of U.S. District Court in Toledo, where Mr. Groch s lawsuit against GM and the press s manufacturer is pending. Mr. Groch maintains he was permanently disfigured by the press, which was originally delivered to GM in 1977.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
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