When Linda Ackison filed an asbestos-related wrongful-death suit against her late husband's employer in 2004, she did not intend it to become the test case that would lead to the dismissal of more than 31,000 similar claims. But that's what happened after the Ohio Supreme Court put its weight behind a landmark retroactive medical criteria law and opened the door for sweeping changes in asbestos litigation nationwide.
Courts in Ohio have been clogged for decades with tens of thousands of suits alleging that asbestos exposure caused serious illness or death. Defense counsel questioned the legitimacy of a majority of those claims. So the Ohio General Assembly enacted legislation (H.B. 292) imposing new requirements on plaintiffs pursuing asbestos-related injury claims, including the submission of specified medical evidence of current disease or medical impairment, supported by the written opinion of a doctor who treated the plaintiff.
Bogus Case Backlog
The few court rulings thus far on other states' medical criteria laws have reached different results with respect to retroactive application of these laws. In November 2006, for example, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in Daimler Chrysler Corp. v. Ferrante that the state's asbestos litigation reform law unconstitutionally required plaintiffs with pre-existing claims to establish a new medical element to prove their case. The legislature then passed a revised version of the law, making it prospective only and stating that only those who become sick through exposure to asbestos can sue companies that used the material.