Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Law Limiting Product Liability Suits

February 26, 2008

The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday, Feb. 21 upheld a state law that sets a deadline for people to sue manufacturers of defective products but said a General Motors worker can continue with his lawsuit because he was injured before the law took effect.

In a 6-1 decision, the high court gave business groups a victory in saying that the 2005 law on product liability does not violate rights of due process.

Under the law, people can’t sue manufacturers for any product-related injury that occurred more than 10 years after the manufacturer delivered the product to the customer. Writing for the majority, Justice Maureen O’Connor said the choice of lawmakers to set a 10-year timeframe was not unreasonable.

But the law can’t be applied retroactively to Douglas Groch, 41, who was injured when a large machine press that sheers metal parts came down on his right arm and wrist 34 days before the law took effect, the court said.

The nearly 30-year-old trim press that Groch was operating at a General Motors powertrain plant in Toledo left him with permanent nerve and muscle damage in his arm, his attorney Kevin Boissoneault said. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money in damages.

Groch’s lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Toledo. The federal court had asked the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the law and other issues before hearing the case.

Boissoneault said he was pleased that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of his client but disappointed for other Ohioans injured on the job who are prevented under the law from taking legal action.

In a dissent, Justice Paul Pfeifer agreed that Groch should be allowed to sue but found the product liability law as a whole to be unconstitutional and potentially devastating for consumers.

“It is a harrowing thought that the products we use today that may be ticking time bombs _ be they food additives, cell phones, automobiles _ after ten years can leave us profoundly injured with no hope of recovery against the (manufacturer),” Pfeifer wrote. “For manufacturers, the bomb stops ticking at ten years. For Ohio’s consumers, once but no longer protected by the Ohio Constitution, the ticking continues.”

A message seeking comment was left Thursday for an attorney with General Motors Corp. The lawsuit also names Kard Corp., which designed the trim press, and the company’s Wisconsin-based successor, Racine Federated Inc.

Robert Eddy, an attorney for Racine Federated, said the company maintains that the trim press was properly designed and manufactured.

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