Indiana Supreme Court – Statute of Limitations for Asbestos Cases “Unconstitutional” and Inapplicable

Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that the Indiana Product Liability Act statute of repose for asbestos cases is “unconstitutional” and applicable on three different appeals. The Indiana Product Liability Act statute of repose can basically be described as the statute of limitations for product liability cases. The statute of repose in Indiana states that legal action must be commenced either within two years after the cause of the action accrues, or within 10 years after the delivery of the product to the initial consumer.

Asbestos Statute of Limitations

IC 34-20-3-2 specifies that asbestos related actions do not have a statute of repose. The question came, however, in whether the companies fell under Section 1 of the statute, which poses the time limits for lawsuits, or under Section 2 of the statute, which applies to asbestos claims against entities which mined and sold commercial asbestos. Because the products in question contained asbestos, and the companies were not mining or selling raw asbestos, it would seem they would fall into Section 1, which poses time limits to file lawsuits.

Two Years Is Not Enough For Asbestos-Related Claims

Justice Brent E. Dickson of the Indiana Supreme Court, however, has ruled that two years is not enough time for asbestos related injuries to present themselves, regardless of the type of company. In the case at hand, the plaintiffs were electricians who were exposed to materials that contained asbestos for decades. It was not until after they were diagnosed with mesothelioma that they brought suit against the companies. The defendants obviously urged the court to categorize them in Section 1, while the plaintiffs argued that the company fell under Section 2.

The lawsuit, Myers v. Crouse-Hinds Division of Cooper Industries, Inc. 2016 WL 825111, will change asbestos product liability cases for the future, as it ruled against the Indiana Product Liability Act statute of repose, as well as a prior case addressing similar issues. Because Section 2 of the Indiana Product Liability Act is labeled for “asbestos-related actions,” the Supreme Court elected to hear the case under that part of the act. The court essentially stated that asbestos victims all fall under the same category and that a two-year or even 10-year statute of limitations is not fair for asbestos injuries.

Unequal Treatment Violates Constitution

The court delved into the Indiana Constitution, the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article 1, Section 23, which helped to determine whether Section 2 of the Indiana Product Liability Act violated constitutional rights of the injured. The court determined that Section 2 did, in fact, create unequal treatment because it established a preference for asbestos injured victims who should be treated equally, regardless of what type of company caused their injuries. In finding that Section 2 was unconstitutional, the court invalidated the entire section.

This meant that all claims fell under Section 1, which did pose statute of limitations. However, the court also found that the statute of repose did not apply to cases that involved prolonged exposure to an extremely dangerous substance. With this said, the court decided that the Indiana Product Liability Act’s statute of limitations could not be used by the defendants to request dismissal of the case.

Product liability cases and the statute of repose are often confusing for victims pursuing product liability lawsuits. If you are considering a product liability lawsuit, call an Indianapolis product liability lawyer who understand the ins and outs of the laws and can get you the compensation you deserve. As you have probably realized, product liability cases do follow strict timelines. Call Rowe & Hamilton to speak to a lawyer immediately about your case.

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