In a real surprise to most legal scholars, the Alabama Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision has denied a rehearing in the case of Cline v. Ashland, Inc. The issue before the court was when the statute of limitations begins to run (and when a cause of action accrues) for injuries resulting from exposure to a hazardous substance. The court had originally affirmed, without opinion, the trial court’s summary judgment for the defendant, which had been entered on the basis that the claim was not brought within two years from the date of exposure to the substance involved in the case.
The court held that the statute of limitations starts to run at the time of exposure to the toxic substance, even if the plaintiff didn’t become sick until many years later (as happened with Mr. Cline). This is an unbelievably bad decision and can’t be justified by any legal standard. Justice Harwood, joined by Justices Lyons, Woodall, and Parker, disagreed with the other five justices who voted for the defendant. They correctly felt that Mr. Cline’s case should have been allowed to proceed. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Harwood articulates in detail why the majority opinion is unfair and unworkable. I recommend that you read his opinion. It is a work of art and is correct without question.
I am convinced that Jack Cline sincerely believed that his long battle with the courts would do some good for other people. I am told by Bob Palmer, his lawyer, that Mr. Cline was convinced that God had kept him alive to win his lawsuit. Mr. Cline, who was poisoned decades ago by a company that made benzene, fought the good fight, but lost his legal battle in this most unjust opinion. Mr. Cline was in the hospital, in intensive care and in critical condition, when the court’s opinion came down. Bob had no choice but to tell him what 5 members of the high court had done to his case. His doctors told Mr. Cline 8 years ago he had only months to live when he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. This courageous man hung on to life and fought the good fight. Unfortunately, he died on January 16th. Regardless of the outcome of his legal battle, God will bless him for trying to help other victims.
To put things in the proper perspective, by the time most victims know they’re sick, under the court’s ruling, it’s too late to sue. Alabama is the only state with a statute like that – one that protects polluters and robs victims of legal recourse. I hope that will soon be changed. The Cline case has received a tremendous amount of national media attention. If you have access to the New York Times, I recommend that you read the piece that discussed the Cline case in great detail. I also recommend that you obtain a copy of Bob Palmer’s op-ed piece that was carried by The Anniston Star. If you can’t access these, we will send you copies on request.