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February 14, 2002

 



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Editorials | Article published February 5, 2002
Time limit or fairness?

The Ohio Supreme Court, as it considers the timeliness of a beryllium-disease lawsuit filed against Brush Wellman, should ponder simple fairness, not just statutes of limitations.

To do so would not necessarily set a precedent for all beryllium cases nor for all workplace injury cases, as spokesmen for Brush would like the justices to believe. Rather it would take away the advantage of employers who withhold data detrimental to themselves until it is too late for employees to use it against them.

The President has called on American business and corporations to be honest and fair-dealing, and American courts should expect no less of them.

In this instance, employee David Norgard, 46, diagnosed in 1992 with chronic beryllium disease, didnít find out until 1995 that Brush Wellman hadnít told him and other workers all it could have about the causes of beryllium disease and the levels of exposure to it that were safe.

He filed his lawsuit within two years of finding out, but a trial court and a court of appeals panel ruled that, as Brush Wellman had argued, he should have filed his suit in 1994, two years after he was diagnosed but well before he knew the extent of the companyís perfidy.

The state Supreme Court has allowed some leeway before as to when the statute of limitations clock begins to tick. Usually it is when a work-related disease or injury has been discovered. But in Mr. Norgardís case, the kind of information needed to sue or to decide whether there were grounds to sue wasnít readily available at the time of his diagnosis. Some of it was apparently classified.

In addition, other people stricken with beryllium disease who filed within the first two years of diagnosis often had their cases dismissed for lack of evidence, Mr. Norgard says, and he wonders if it was because it was hidden. The Norgards took time to investigate and get the facts. There is no justice if their thoroughness is held against them.

The statutes setting limitations within which lawsuits may be filed were never meant to permit or promote corporate skulduggery. The Ohio Supreme Courtís interpretation of the law should consider the equity of the situation as well as the arguments of both sides.


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