Jack Cline is dying of leukemia that he says he got from exposure to benzene at his factory job. In most states, he would be able to sue the companies that made the benzene and let a jury decide if the company is responsible. But Alabama’s all-Republican, wildly pro-business Supreme Court threw out his case.
Alabama law requires people exposed to dangerous chemicals to wait until a “manifest” injury develops.” But when Mr. Cline’s leukemia developed years later, it was too late. Alabama’s statute of limitations requires that suits be brought within two years of exposure. In a ruling that defies any definition of justice, the court held that there was never a valid time for Mr. Cline to sue. If he had sued when he was exposed to the benzene, it would have been too early waiting for the diagnosis of leukemia was too late.
In the face of such harsh and absurd reasoning, Mr. Cline’s attorney, Mr. Palmer, started a statewide campaign, letters to the editors of all major papers and a petition drive, prompting the court to take the extraordinary move of reopening the case. New arguments were heard last spring.
Mr. Palmer argued that preventing him from ever suing denied him his rights under the Alabama Constitution to seek a legal remedy for his injuries.
Mr. Palmer was encouraged when the Alabama Supreme Court reopened the case. The court scheduled oral arguments for a special public session on a law school campus, an indication it considered the case particularly significant. Legal analysts thought the arguments went well. “Questions asked by several justices indicated they were troubled by the legal Catch-22,” The Birmingham News reported.
The court ruled this month. It affirmed the dismissal of Mr. Cline’s case by a 5-to-4 vote. If Mr. Cline wanted to challenge the unfairness of the rules, the court held, he would have to take it up with the State Legislature — a body described by a recent The New York Times op-ed piece as “every bit as pro-business as the Alabama Supreme Court.”
However, Mr. Palmer plans to ask the United States Supreme Court to hear the case on the constitutionality argument. Perhaps in the nation’s greatest Hall of Justice, an individual may find redress from the ruling that there was never a time when he would have had the right to file his claim.
To read the entire New York Times op-ed piece, which presents a strong argument against current pro-business “tort reform” measures, read “They Say We Have Too Many Lawsuits? Tell It to Jack Cline.”