Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania provision for employer liability immunity tossed

Workplace diseases may not show up immediately. Certain cancers like rare, asbestos-related mesothelioma are latent and may take 10 years to several decades to become evident.

Workers' compensation insurance allows Pennsylvania employers to escape most liability claims by employees. The insurance provides benefits for workers who are injured or become ill while on the job. The benefits are available so that employees don't sue the companies that employ them.

A segment of the state Workers' Compensation Act provided added protection for companies that were named in employee injury or death complaints. The provision stated that when an employee developed an occupational disease over 300 weeks after he or she had been exposed to a dangerous substance, the company could no longer be a target for liability litigation.

The provision excluded complaints by plaintiffs with asbestos injury or other long-developing, industrial disease claims until a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The state high court overturned an earlier Superior Court ruling used to deny plaintiffs in Tooey v. AK Steel Corp. from pursuing damages for workplace asbestos injuries.

Employees who work in toxic environments can develop symptoms of an illness or disease within weeks or months, but that's not true for every negative health condition. Asbestos fibers collect over time in the body of a person with repeated, concentrated exposure to the substance and lie dormant for a decade or more before triggering a lethal disease.

The state Supreme Court's ruling rejects employer exclusivity because a "certain class" of workers - asbestosis and mesothelioma sufferers included - is unfairly stranded by the Workers' Compensation Act provision. The decision opens the door for workers who hesitated to bring liability lawsuits against former employers. By striking down the 300-week rule, the court also gave hope to family members whose loved ones died from occupational illnesses. In addition, the number of defendants named in a claim could be expanded to include employers, adding another resource for plaintiff compensation.

Source:, "Mesothelioma Victims' Victory in Pennsylvania" No author given, Dec. 09, 2013

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