by Karl Voigt
Yet another piece of proposed legislation is circulating in the Pennsylvania legislature. Senate Bill 1052 proposes that older occupational disease cases – with symptoms that may take years to manifest – be limited to the Workers’ Compensation system. As an example, asbestosis and mesothelioma cases would be brought back before Workers’ Compensation judges.
Senate Bill 1052 was prompted by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case in which the court allowed for a civil suit in the court of common pleas when someone contracts a work-related disease outside of the 300 week “statute of limitations” for filing. Presently, if a worker discovers that he has contracted asbestosis more than 300 weeks from his last exposure, he must bring he case to the court of common pleas. It is not uncommon for a diagnosis like this to be made well after six years after exposure to asbestos.
For over 100 years, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act has enforced a compromise between employers’ and employees’ interests. Namely, an injured worker can only sue for a work injury or disease inside the Workers’ Compensation arena, and damages are limited to medical bills and wage loss benefits. In exchange, the injured worker gets a system that works faster and more predictably than litigation in county court. This is called the “exclusive remedy”.
The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act presently disallows the filing of any Workers’ Compensation claim in the court of common pleas. These cases can result in awards for pain and suffering, whereas Workers’ Compensation cases do not allow for this type of award. This new bill, if passed, would limit claims to the less-remunerative Workers’ Compensation system.
You can find the text of the proposal here.