Do you worry that your asbestos exposure was too long ago to bring a lawsuit in the Keystone State? If so, you need to talk with the mesothelioma attorneys who played a major role in changing Pennsylvania law. In November 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down Tooey v. AK Steel. This decision found that two workers and their executors were not barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) from filing legal claims against their employers for occupational disease that manifested more than 300 weeks after the employment ended.
Workers’ Compensation, Legal Claims, and Tooey v. AK Steel
While analyzing the PA ruling in Tooey, there are several issues to unpack including:
- Theory Behind the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act
- Exclusivity Provision of the WCA
- Impact on Workers Suffering From Mesothelioma
The court evaluated each of these points before determining that the WCA did not bar the claim in Tooey.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
The Workers’ Compensation Act is intended to ensure that employers are compensating their workers for earnings lost due to their work-related injuries. Employer compensation for these injuries is considered a cost of doing business.
In theory, workers’ compensation laws are more efficient than a system in which workers file individual lawsuits against employers for compensation due to on-the-job injuries. Under the WCA, workers receive compensation faster and without the added burden of dealing with the legal system. In exchange for a quicker result, a worker may not sue the employer in court to recover compensation for work-related injuries. “Injuries” include actual injuries and occupational diseases.
The Facts of Tooey v. AK Steel
Tooey v. AK Steel Corporation involved claims regarding two former employees of different companies. The employees, John Tooey and Spurgeon Landis, had been exposed to asbestos at work but had stopped working for their employers in 1982 and 1992 respectively. Tooey was diagnosed with mesothelioma in December 2007. He died less than one year later. Landis contracted mesothelioma in July 2007.
To fall under the definition of an “injury” under Pennsylvania law—77 Pa.C.S. Section 411 or Section 301(c)(1)—the event must occur within 300 weeks or approximately five years and nine months after the last date of employment. Like many workers exposed to asbestos, both Tooey and Landis were diagnosed years after the 300-week period. It can take 20 to 40 years for mesothelioma symptoms to manifest.
Because Tooey and Landis were diagnosed well beyond 300 months, the court held that their claims were not covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Specifically, they were not bound by the exclusivity clause 77 Pa.C.S. Section 481or Section 303(a). This meant that they could file their lawsuits in court rather than being stuck with the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Tooey v. AK Steel: The Employers’ Positions
Tooey’s and Landis’ former employers argued that the 300-week time period was for the purpose of limiting the money damages employers would have to pay out for injuries and not to limit the jurisdiction of the act. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disagreed, finding that the intention of the Pennsylvania General Assembly when enacting the WCA was to benefit injured workers.
The court in the Tooey case went on to say that, in the case of workers affected by mesothelioma, the original underlying purpose of the WCA could not be met. If the court adopted the employers’ reading of the WCA, a worker who was diagnosed with mesothelioma more than 300 weeks after employment would be barred from recovering any compensation at all.
The Nemeroff Law Firm Can Help
If your situation is similar to the facts of Tooey v. AK Steel, you need experienced asbestos lawyers who understand complicated laws and will fight to receive the compensation you deserve. Look no further than the attorneys at the Nemeroff Law Firm. They helped John Tooey’s family, and they may be able to help you, too. For more information or for a free consultation, complete our online contact form or call us at 866-342-1929.