Ohio: Is Excessive Litigation a Public Nuisance?

By August 2, 2007Briefly Legal

More in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer on yesterday’s ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court, which upheld the legality of S.B. 117, a tort reform measure. New Governor Ted Strickland did not have the authority to recall that bill already filed with the Secretary of State and veto it, the court ruled. (Earlier post here.) Congratulations to the Ohio Manufacturers Association, who worked hard to enact this legislation, now law.

The court’s ruling means S.B. 117, which caps noneconomic damages for defrauded consumers, is now law, just as business groups and the Republican-controlled legislature had wanted.

“The idea of big damages was an uncertainty that threatened to damage the economy,” said Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. “This bill puts standards in place that are clear.”

Standards of culpability included, we hope.

In a timely piece, The Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute has issued a new paper, “JUDICIAL LEAD-ERSHIP: State Courts Are Rebuffing the Trial Lawyers’ Attack on Paint Manufacturers.”

After years of unsuccessful efforts, the litigation industry’s hopes of extracting money from paint makers began to look promising when the trial bar won a major victory last year. In February 2006, a Rhode Island superior court found three paint manufacturers—Sherwin Williams, Millennium Holdings, and NL Industries—liable for the costs of removing lead paint from 240,000 public and private buildings, under a novel “public nuisance” theory (see box, next page). The estimated price tag on the court-ordered cleanup is as much as $3 billion.

But recent court decisions in other states—including New Jersey, Ohio, and Missouri—have evinced a more traditional understanding of the issues raised in Rhode Island, and each of these state courts has rejected the litigation industry’s lead paint claims.

A good trend, the result of many people working on tort reform and judicial nominees. Keep it coming.

UPDATE (12:40 p.m.): Jonathan Adler, a Case Western Reserve law professor (in Ohio), analyzes the legal discussions (legislative deadlines, etc.) in this extensive post. He concludes: “In the end, I find it quite incongruous that a newly elected governor could veto legislation enacted the prior year that the then-sitting governor intended to let become a law, and it seems to me that the text of the Ohio Constitution is in accord with this view.”

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