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Pennsylvania court rules against time limit in mesothelioma cases

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently handed down a very influential decision on the issue of civil injury claims by workers against their former employers. These types of claims are governed primarily by the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act, which sets strict rules for recovery by employees who have been injured on the job, including a time limit for filing claims to compensation.

Mesothelioma cases are particularly difficult since the disease can appear slowly over time and then suddenly become much worse. For example, one of the cases before the Supreme Court involved a man who worked for his employer from 1946 until 1992 and was exposed to asbestos during that time. He wasn’t diagnosed with mesothelioma until 2007. Under the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act he would have had until about 1997 to file his claim (the act provides for 300 weeks from the last day of work, which is just under six years).

As this case illustrates, the time limit presents a problem for workers who may be suffering from injuries and illnesses due to exposure to toxic chemicals or other injuries that take a long time to manifest. These facts led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine that the time limit on filing claims does not apply to latent occupational diseases, including mesothelioma.

This ruling will have a big impact on workers in Pennsylvania who have been exposed to toxic chemicals and those who have received a serious diagnosis years or decades after they retired or left the job that was the source of the exposure.

Source: Pennsylvania Record, “Pa. Supreme Court: workers can sue employers over latent occupational diseases,” Jon Campisi, Dec. 13, 2013.

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