COURT OF APPEALS Committee challenges asbestos law

The committee first considered a referendum.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Opponents of a law that would make it more difficult for Ohioans exposed to asbestos but not showing signs of illness to sue for damages have abandoned a ballot challenge and have taken their case to court.
The Committee to Protect Ohioans, a group of lawyers who represent up to 40,000 people with pending asbestos cases, sued in the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cleveland on Wednesday, questioning the law's constitutionality.
The law will affect thousands of cases now pending in Ohio courts filed by people exposed to the flaky substance widely used in building material during the 1950s and 1960s. Asbestos can cause cancer. The law is unconstitutional because it is retroactive, said Michael Kelley, a lawyer representing the committee.
"It seeks to apply to thousands of cases already filed," Kelley said. "The Ohio Constitution says you can't pass a retroactive law."
The committee explored a referendum campaign that would have put its challenge on the Nov. 2 ballot, but decided a court challenge would be better, said Thomas Bevan, a Northeast Ohio lawyer who has about 6,000 pending asbestos cases.
"We looked at the law and felt it was so blatantly unconstitutional that we didn't need to go to the referendum," Bevan said.
The Legislature passed the law this spring in response to business complaints that courts were allowing damages to people who had been exposed to asbestos but had no symptoms of illnesses associated with it.
The Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice, a business group that represents 200 organizations, had been prepared for the referendum but will oppose the court case, said David Hansen, the group's chairman and a lobbyist for the Ohio Manufacturers' Association.

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