Lawsuit for illness filed too late

Robert Stytle was employed at Angola Die Casting Co. in Indiana from 1984 to 1990. Then, he became a deputy for the Town of Hamilton, Ind. At some point during his employment as a deputy, Stytle began experiencing memory loss and, at age 50, he was diagno

Robert Stytle was employed at Angola Die Casting Co. in Indiana from 1984 to 1990. Then, he became a deputy for the Town of Hamilton, Ind. At some point during his employment as a deputy, Stytle began experiencing memory loss and, at age 50, he was diagnosed with possible Alzheimer's disease. He was determined to be totally disabled in 1998.

In July 2000, Stytle consulted a psychiatrist who concluded his exposure to aluminum during his employment at Angola was the primary cause of his cognitive problems. Stytle filed a lawsuit against Angola and against DuPage Die Casting of Indiana — the company that bought Angola in 1997. Stytle made his claim under the Indiana Occupational Disease Act, which allows employees to sue their employers for compensation if they become disabled by occupational diseases and cannot work at full wages.

The Indiana Workers' Compensation Board ruled against Stytle, concluding the complaint was filed too late. The Occupational Disease Act states that disablement has to occur within 2 yr after the last date of the exposure to the hazard, and a lawsuit must be filed within 2 yr after the date of disablement. Stytle filed his lawsuit more than 10 yr after his last exposure to aluminum at Angola.

Stytle appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, arguing that the law was unconstitutional because it barred his lawsuit before he even learned of his disease. According to Stytle, the law violated the "open-courts" provision of the state constitution, which states: "All courts shall be open; and every person, for injury done to him in his person, property, or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law."

The appellate court noted that in 1982 the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 2-yr statute of repose contained in the Occupational Disease Act, on the ground that it was the legislature's responsibility to determine a reasonable time for bringing an action. Because the appeals court was bound by that ruling, it upheld the judgment against Stytle.

Stytle v. Angola Die Casting Inc., 806 N.E.2d 339 (Ind.App. 2004), Court of Appeals of Indiana, Aug. 20, 2004.
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