Ohio AG backs veto of lawsuit-limiting bill

John O'Brien Jan. 10, 2007, 9:51am

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann on Monday commended new Gov. Ted Strickland's veto of a bill that would have limited lawsuits against lead-pigment manufacturers.

He also may soon find himself in court over the veto.

Strickland was only in office a few hours after taking over for outgoing Republican Gov. Bob Taft before vetoing the bill.

Dann says that as a state senator he voted against Senate Bill 117 and joined a group that urged Taft to veto the bill.

Taft did not act on the bill during the 10-day period after it was passed by the Legislature, effectively making the bill a law. However, the two sides are arguing on when that 10-day period started. Strickland claims he still had time to veto the bill when he took office.

Republican lawmakers have promised a court fight and claim the bill had already passed before Strickland took office, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch.

"I commend Gov. Strickland for taking this action on behalf of the people of the State of Ohio, and my office is prepared to vigorously defend his veto in court if necessary," Dann said.

At the same time, Dann said he has advised Senate President Bill Harris and House Speaker Jon Husted that he will provide them with legal counsel if they choose to challenge the veto.

The bill put a cap on non-economic damages in consumer-protection lawsuits at $5,000 and prevented public-nuisance lawsuits against lead-pigment manufacturers. It also restricted claims for the costs of cleaning up lead-based paint in older buildings.

The report quoted Ryan Augsburger of the Ohio Manufacturers' Association as saying, "Any failure to enact Senate Bill 117 is two steps back from Ohio's comprehensive tort reform."

Three former makers of lead-based were found guilty last February of creating a public nuisance in a lawsuit filed by then-Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, making Rhode Island the first state to sue over the issue. The companies were Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC. A claim for punitive damages was denied.

DuPont was also a defendant on the suit but was dropped after it agreed to pay $10 million to clean up or cover the paint. The remaining defendants could have to spend almost $4 billion in clean-up costs, according to state estimates.

A month after the Rhode Island verdict, a class-action lawsuit filed by several cities, counties and school districts was reinstated by a California appeals court.

Also, the Missouri Supreme Court recently decided to hear a case brought on by the City of St. Louis against Benjamin Moore and Co., Millennium Chemicals, NL Industries, PPG Industries and Sherwin-Williams.

And in addition to numerous lawsuits filed by individuals, cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Cincinnati have filed suit over lead-paint exposure, too.

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