SW Legal studies in Business

Product Liability Statute of Repose Unconstitutional When Applied to Earlier Causes of Action
Description Court of appeals declared the Indiana Product Liability Act's ten-year statute of repose to be unconstitutional in its application to cases that date their inception to before the Act was passed. Such limits on the right of access to the courts cannot be applied in a retroactive manner.
Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words Statute of Repose; Common Law; Product Liability; Latency
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Jurich worked at Inland Steel from 1946 to 1986. For many of those years, his work exposed him to asbestos dust. In 1996, he was discovered to have mesothelioma caused by asbestos. The disease has a latency period of five to seventy years. Jurich filed suit but died in 1997; his estate continued to prosecute the case. The case was dismissed because the claim was barred by the Indiana Product Liability Act (PLA), which has a ten-year statute of repose. Jurich's case fell outside that time since the exposure ended ten years prior to the disease being discovered. The Jurich estate appealed.
Decision

Reversed. The PLA's statute of repose, which took effect in 1978, is unconstitutional at least as it applies to a situation such as this one. There is a right of access to the courts that the legislature cannot unreasonably deny to citizens. "The PLA ten-year statute of repose is unconstitutional as applied to a claim such as the Jurichs': where a plaintiff is injured by an asbestos-containing product either by exposure to asbestos fibers before the enactment of the PLA, and/or where there is no evidence the product was more than ten years old at the time the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos fibers contained in the product."

Citation Jurich v. Garlock, Inc., N.E.2d (2001 WL 1637504, Ct. App., Ind., 2001)

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