Potential Changes in PA Workers’ Comp

June 6, 2018

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act sets a time limit for filing workers’ compensation claims based on work-related illnesses. Under state law, work-related diseases must manifest within 300 weeks of the worker’s employment to be actionable. In Tooey v. AK Steel Corp., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that claims for such long latency diseases are relegated to the area of tort law, since they do not fall within the 300-week time limit set by state workers’ compensation law.

As a result of Tooey, there has been an increase in the number of civil asbestos actions filed against employers. A new bill would allow more workers to be covered under workers’ compensation, thereby lessening the recent influx of civil lawsuits against employers. Pennsylvania House Bill 2207 aims to make long latency disease claims eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, provided they meet the prescribed deadline of filing within 300 weeks of diagnosis, rather than within 300 weeks of employment, as current workers’ compensation law requires.

The bill’s sponsor believes the bill benefits everyone involved, noting the unpredictable nature of civil lawsuits, which is not in the best interests of workers, and can be potentially devastating for employers. The director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry says that the act will limit the number of lawsuits employers have had to face as a result of Tooey.

The bill is now under consideration at the Senate Labor and Industry Committee. The Committee’s executive director said that the Committee did not want to leave workers suffering from long latency diseases without recourse, so it decided to extend the time limit to 300 weeks from when the worker is diagnosed with the disease.

Issues and Opposition

However, labor groups and other opponents point to the fact that some long latency diseases can take much longer than 300 weeks – sometimes up to four decades – to manifest. Therefore, the 300-week deadline is not enough for certain long-tail diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. This is cause for concern, especially in a state like Pennsylvania that is a center of steel production, shipbuilding, and other industries that pose high risks for long latency occupational illnesses. According to an asbestos litigation consulting firm, Philadelphia ranked second in the country for the number of mesothelioma filings last year.

The bill also places the burden on claimants to prove that the disease for which they are seeking compensation has a latency period of more than 300 weeks. It further states that the act will stand as the exclusive remedy for any injuries arising out of hazardous occupational exposure, regardless of whether it is compensable as an occupational disease.

The Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania’s president stated that the bill is still in its early stages and suggests that the language should be amended to clearly indicate that disease claims cannot be retroactive or apply to closed insurance policies.

Although the outcome remains to be seen, the director of government affairs at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry believes it has a good chance of passing sometime this year, considering the amount of support behind it.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C Represent Workers in Work-Related Disease Claims

If you contracted a work-related disease, contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We proudly represent clients throughout Pennsylvania, including Berks CountyBensalem CountyBucks CountyChester CountyDelaware CountyMontgomery County, and Philadelphia County. To discuss your case, call us at 888-PITT-LAW or complete our online contact form.

Our legal team provides skilled representation to those residing in and around AbingtonAmblerArdmoreBala CynwydBensalemClifton HeightsCrum Lynne, DarbyDowningtownDoylestownDrexel HillEssington, FolcroftGlenolden, HaverfordHavertownHolmesKutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion StationMorton, Narberth, Norristown, NorwoodPhiladelphiaProspect Park, QuakertownReadingRoxboroughSharon HillUpper Darby, West Chester and Wynnewood.