Section 2 of the Indiana Product Liability Act Statute of Repose Found Unconstitutional

In this federal court case, three appeals regarding the constitutionality of the Indiana product liability act statute of repose were consolidated for review. Several defendants moved for summary judgment based on the statute of repose in each of the cases with various results. The plaintiffs now argue that section 2 of the statute draws a constitutional impermissible distinction between asbestos plaintiffs who have claims against defendants who both mined and sold raw asbestos and asbestos and those asbestos plaintiffs that have claims against defendants that did not fall into that category.

In its analysis, the court looked at prior rulings, including AlliedSignal v. Ott, Collins v. Day, and Covalt v. Carey Canada, Inc., and sections 1 and 2 of the statute. The court noted: “Section 2 creates disparate treatment for the classes at issue here. Those asbestos victims who are injured by defendants who did not both mine and sell raw asbestos must sue those defendants under Section 1, where they may be barred by the statute of repose. The asbestos victims who are injured by defendants who did both mine and sell raw asbestos, however, may sue those defendants under Section 2, where no statute of repose applies. Because there is disparate treatment, Collins requires first that any disparate impact ‘be reasonably related to inherent characteristics which distinguish the unequally treated classes,’ and second, that preferential treatment be uniformly applicable and equally available to all persons similarly situated.’ 644 N.E.2d at 80. Section 2 does not satisfy this burden.”

The court went on to hold: “While we decline to reconsider our decision in AlliedSignal v. Ott, we find that Section 2 of the Product Liability Act violates the Indiana Constitution. Applying this Court’s precedent in Covalt v. Carey Canada, Inc., we uphold our prior decision that the Indiana Product Liability Act’s statute of repose does not apply to cases such as these where the plaintiffs have had protracted exposure to inherently dangerous foreign substances. We affirm the trial courts’ denial of summary judgment in General Electric Co. and Owens-Illinois, Inc., and we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in Crouse Hinds. We remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.”

Read the full decision here.