Mesothelioma Case Decision Could Set Precedent

August 5, 2019

One of the tenets of the workers’ compensation system is that employers may not be personally sued for their employees’ work injuries and illnesses. In exchange for such immunity, employers must maintain workers’ compensation insurance. Generally, an injured worker’s exclusive remedy is workers’ compensation – he or she must file a claim and follow the process in order to recover benefits such as medical expense and wage loss compensation under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act). However, in a landmark decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created an exception to this long-standing rule.

Exception to Employer Immunity

In Tooey v A.K. Steel, the court held that an employee could bring a civil claim against his or her employer if there is no opportunity to seek redress under the Act. In that case, a man who sold asbestos products between 1964 and 1982 died one year after developing mesothelioma in 2007.

Tooey could not collect workers’ compensation benefits for his illness because under the Act, workers are barred from filing workers’ compensation claims for occupational diseases that manifest more than 300 weeks after the employee’s last exposure. As such, Tooey, his co-worker, and their spouses filed tort actions against the employer. The Superior Court sided with the defendants, granting their motion for summary judgment and holding that exclusivity provision prevented the asbestos salesman from filing a tort action against his employer.

However, on appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the exclusivity provision does not preclude the Appellants from pursuing compensation via a common law claim against their employer. The court based its decision largely on the original intent of the Act, which is to provide compensation only to employees who file claims based on an occupational disease which manifests within 300 weeks of the employee’s last exposure.

What the Decision Means for Those with Long-Latency Occupational Diseases

Long-latency diseases such as mesothelioma can take decades to present symptoms. Therefore, those who have the disease may not be diagnosed until it has progressed to its later stages, far past the 300-week cut-off. Such workers were previously unable to collect benefits under the Act, nor obtain damages from their employers in common law actions.

Tooey has opened the door for workers with long-latency diseases to file personal injury suits (and for families of workers who died from long-latency diseases to file wrongful death claims) against employers. Also, in 2018, a new bill which would place such claims back in the purview of workers’ compensation was introduced. If the bill passes, workers’ compensation claims may be filed within 300 weeks of diagnosis rather than within 300 weeks of exposure.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Handle Complex Occupational Disease Claims

If you have a work-related disease, even if it manifested outside the 300-week window, contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Our knowledgeable attorneys stay abreast of all changes in the law so we can pursue all avenues of compensation for our clients, including third-party personal injury liability. We have proudly served workers throughout the state for over 40 years and we can help you obtain the maximum compensation to which you are entitled under the law. For a free consultation, please complete our online contact form or call us at 888-PITT-LAW.

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