The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently issued a decision that could increase employers’ risk of new lawsuits from former employees exposed to asbestos who later developed mesothelioma.
The decision in Tooey v. AK Steel Corp. addressed the question of whether the Commonwealth’s Workers’ Compensation Act (or WCA) applies to occupational diseases that do not show symptoms until 300 weeks after the worker’s employment is terminated. Occupational disease claims typically remain within the scope of the WCA law, but because mesothelioma often takes years to develop, plaintiffs argued that the limitation of 300 weeks should not apply to these claims.
John Tooey sold industrial asbestos products for nearly 20 years. Although his job at AK Steel Corp. ended in 1982, he developed mesothelioma in 2007 and died several months later. His heir, along with the heirs of several additional plaintiffs whose cases were very similar, filed tort actions against their previous employers. The employers claimed that the plaintiffs could only pursue workers’ compensation benefits as their remedy, but also admitted that these benefits would not be made available due to the WCA’s 300-week rule.
- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately rejected the arguments of the employers and sided with the plaintiffs after conducting an analysis that focused primarily on the grammatical wording of the 300-week rule.
- In addition to closely interpreting the act’s language, the court also stated that the WCA’s overarching purpose is to provide assistance to injured or sick workers, which would not be possible if the employers’ suggested interpretation had been accepted.
The Tooey case has demonstrated a rare exception in workers’ compensation law — one that may set the standard for future employment-related mesothelioma lawsuits. Currently, the possibility is being discussed that the ruling might be applied retroactively to mesothelioma claims settled years ago.
If you or someone you know has developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on the job, you may be able to seek damages. Speak with an experienced Philadelphia personal injury lawyer to learn more.