Asbestos Plaintiffs No Longer Barred by Indiana Product Liability Act’s Statute of Repose
In Myers v. Crouse Hinds Div. of Cooper Indus., (2016 Ind. LEXIS 156), the Supreme Court of Indiana found that Section 2 of the Indiana Product Liability Act violates the Indiana Constitution. Further, the Court held that the Indiana Product Liability Act’s Statute of Repose does not apply to cases involving protracted exposure to inherently dangerous substances, such as asbestos. This decision will likely change the asbestos litigation landscape in Indiana by allowing a large number of claims that would previously have been barred.
In Myers, the Court consolidated three appeals involving the constitutionality of the Indiana Product Liability Act. Each case alleged damages resulting from exposure to asbestos. The central issue in each appeal was the trial court’s ruling on a motion for summary judgment asserting the ten-year statute of repose included in Indiana’s Product Lability Act.
The plaintiffs argued that Section 2 violated the Indiana Constitution’s Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause, Article 1, Section 23. Specifically, they argued that Section 2 drew a constitutionally impermissible distinction between asbestos plaintiffs injured by defendants who both mined and sold raw asbestos and asbestos plaintiffs who were injured by defendants outside that category.
The Court recognized the disparate treatment between the two classes of plaintiffs in violation of Indiana’s Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause and invalidated Section 2. The Court found that whether asbestos plaintiffs are seeking relief from defendants who mined and sold raw asbestos or from defendants who provided products containing asbestos does not constitute an inherent distinguishing difference between asbestos plaintiffs. The Court further found that although both classes of plaintiffs were similarly situated, they received unequal treatment under Section 2 of the statute. Both findings violated the standard required by Indiana law to comply with Indiana’s Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause. See Collins v. Day, 644 N.E.2d 72, 80 (Ind. 1994).
Following its determination that Section 2 is invalid, the Court restored its holding in Covalt v. Carey Canada, Inc., 543 N.E.2d 382 (Ind. 1989), as controlling precedent interpreting Section 1 of the Indiana Product Liability Act. In Covalt, the Court held that a plaintiff may bring suit within two years after discovering a disease and its cause, notwithstanding that the discovery was made more than ten years after the last exposure to the product that caused the disease. The holding was limited to cases as those presented in Myers, where the injury to the plaintiff was caused by a disease which may have been contracted as a result of protracted exposure to a foreign substance.
The Court’s decision in Myers has the potential to dramatically change asbestos litigation in Indiana. During McKenna Storer’s many years of representation of multiple defendants in Indiana asbestos litigation, we have successfully utilized the statute of repose defense to defeat and limit claims against our clients. We may now experience a surge in asbestos filings in this jurisdiction as cases that would have been previously barred can now proceed.
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