Workers’ Compensation Act No Longer a Source of Protection for Employers for Certain Types of Lawsuits

Hard Hat

On January 29, 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the case of Tooey v. AK Steel Corp. et al. In Tooey, the court held that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) did not prevent lawsuits brought by the estates of two former employees against their former employer for a disease contracted from the workplace. The court’s ruling expands the liability of employers in cases in which an employee contracts a disease from the workplace, known as an “occupational disease.”

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act

Pennsylvania law requires that companies provide workers’ compensation coverage for employees injured while on the job. In return, the Act serves to protect Pennsylvania employers from civil lawsuits by employees arising out of workplace injuries that the employees suffered while in the scope of their employment. This bar on civil lawsuits is often known as the “Workers’ Comp Bar.”

This insurance protects companies from lawsuits resulting from common workplace accidents and injuries, such as construction accidents, forklift injuries, commercial trucking accidents, slips or falls, lifting injuries, and chemical burns, among many others.

An injured employee is compensated from the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Fund through fixed weekly payments, which continue until the employee recovers from his or her injuries.

Impact of the Tooey Decision

Before the court heard the Tooey case, Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law was interpreted to read that if a former employee had a hidden disease that only manifested itself 300 weeks after the employee’s last date of employment, the employee would not be entitled to either workers’ compensation benefits or the right to bring a civil tort lawsuit against the former employer. In such circumstances, the injured employee’s only recourse would be to file suit against a third party, such as the manufacturer of a defective conveyor belt.

The employees in the Tooey case alleged that they had developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos dust while they were working for their former employer. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that, although their condition had manifested itself more than 300 weeks after their last day of employment, the employees were still able to recover. The court stated that the law should be read to prevent employees from bringing civil tort lawsuits against a former employer only in those cases where the disease occurs within 300 weeks after the last day of employment.

The court was careful not to limit the decision to only mesothelioma cases. Therefore, the court’s decision can be read to say that the “Workers’ Comp Bar” does not apply to any personal injury claims arising from an alleged occupational disease that does not manifest itself within 300 weeks from the employee’s last date of employment.

Contact a Knowledgeable Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you or someone you know has been injured in the workplace, it is important that you speak with an attorney that is knowledgeable about the nuances of Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law. Contact the law offices of Solnick & Associates today.

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