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Landmark ruling favors widow



Published: Sat, September 28, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER

COLUMBUS -- Ohio's high court has awarded workers' compensation pay to the widow of an Ashtabula man who died of an asbestos-related ailment in a case that could affect thousands of asbestos cases across Ohio.

While workers' compensation benefits generally can't be inherited, the Ohio Supreme Court stated, exceptions can be made when a victim's claim is delayed unreasonably because of red tape.

"The provision of prompt and certain compensation to deserving claimants is no less fundamental to Ohio workers' compensation law than the principle that workers' compensation benefits are generally uninheritable," the court's ruling states.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court has about 100 asbestos-related cases pending, and the Ohio Industrial Commission has received more than 7,000 asbestos-related claims for workers' compensation. Commission officials could not say how many of its claims are from Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Janet Lucktenberg, an OIC spokeswoman, said the commission's legal team had begun to study the high court ruling Friday and probably won't determine until next week how it will affect other asbestos cases.

The case

The landmark case was filed by Thomas H. Hubbard of Ashtabula, who filed a workers' comp claim in April 1999 at the Youngstown office of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

Hubbard asked for benefits because he had contracted industrial mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs and chest wall, from years of exposure to asbestos-containing products as a laborer for National Distiller Products Co. of Ashtabula.

After waiting several months, BWC officials ordered Hubbard in September 1999 to get another medical examination.

By the time that exam had been arranged with a state medical specialist in January 2000, the court wrote, Hubbard was "essentially wasting away" from mesothelioma.

However, when Hubbard died a week later, the BWC referred the case to the OIC without paying benefits, and the commission dismissed the claim.

Hubbard's widow, represented by the Cleveland law firm Kelley & amp; Ferraro, asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overrule the OIC and award her the lump sum workers' compensation payment due her husband.

Robert Rupeka, administrator of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, said he hadn't read the Hubbard case and could not comment on how the outcome might affect asbestos cases filed there.

vinarsky@vindy.com




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