Tort Reform Success in Ohio

By August 1, 2007Briefly Legal

The Ohio Supreme Court has just upheld a piece of tort reform legislation that fell prey to political games during the transition from former Governor Bob Taft to current Governor Ted Strickland. With the now court-ordered implementation of S.B. 117, business has a measure of predictability, consumers are spared more expensive goods, and our broken system of “jackpot justice” takes a much-deserved hit. The American Justice Partnership explanation of the now-corrected shenanigans is to the point:

In a highly unusual move just hours after taking office on Monday, January 8, Gov. Ted Strickland vetoed a key business-backed bill that former Gov. Bob Taft expected to become law without his signature. Sending shock waves through the Statehouse community, Gov. Strickland asked newly elected Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to return Sub. SB 117 to him so he could veto it. The governor’s move immediately raised questions about its legality and set-up a standoff between the executive and legislative branches of state government that may be decided by the judicial branch. SB 117 was amended during the 126th General Assembly’s lame duck-session to include several important provisions supported by the Ohio Chamber and other business organizations.

The bill clarifies that cities can only bring actions against manufacturers of products, including those who made lead-pigment paint, under the state’s products liability statutes. Legislative clarification became necessary when personal injury lawyers began an aggressive campaign to convince Ohio cities to use their public nuisance powers to bring actions against lead-paint manufacturers, thereby circumventing recently enacted civil justice reforms. Similar to the asbestos crisis, these lawsuits could have a devastating economic effect on Ohio companies and result in huge job losses.

The Court today ruled (5-2) that the 10-day period during which a veto is valid had expired, so Strickland’s veto could not stand. Here’s the court’s opinion summary. The Brickler & Eckler law firm also has analysis and link to the ruling available here. And The Associated Press story is here.

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