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Pennsylvania Legislature Introduces Law to Funnel Asbestos Claims into Workers’ Compensation System

Pennsylvania Legislature Introduces Law to Funnel Asbestos Claims into Workers’ Compensation SystemA new workers’ compensation law is being introduced into Pennsylvania legislature that may soon make exposure to asbestos and other hazardous materials in the workplace a workers’ compensation-exclusive remedy in the state.

The bill, H.B. 2207, is sponsored by 11 state representatives and aims to combat civil lawsuits regarding illness as a result of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, in the workplace by including asbestosis, mesothelioma and other diseases that don’t show immediate symptoms under the “exclusive remedy” of the state’s current workers’ compensation policy.

The proposed law is similar to one already enacted in the state of Ohio, and comes five years after the Tooey v. AK Steel Corp. case, in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that a previous ruling put an unreasonable cap on diseases with long latency periods. In many cases of asbestosis it can take up to 20 years for symptoms of exposure to become apparent. The Tooey v. AK Steel Corp. ruling cleared the way for former employees or their surviving spouses to bring common-law claims against companies that exposed employees to hazardous materials that later manifested into occupational diseases.

The new bill would funnel these claims back into the workers compensation system, and defines a specific timeline for developing occupational illnesses. If lawmakers approve the bill, the Pennsylvania workers’ comp program would cover “disability or death resulting from an occupational disease having to occur within three hundred weeks after the last date of employment in an occupation or industry to which a claimant was exposed to the hazards of disease.”

H.B. 2207 has drawn some opposition from the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO. The council, which is made up of over 115 local unions, objects to putting time limits on hazardous materials claims. Because the latency period of asbestos exposure is up to 20 years, 300 weeks (approximately 5 years and 9 months) “isn’t a very sufficient amount of time for people who have been damaged on a construction project or been exposed to asbestos,” according to Frank Sirianni, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based president of the council.

While the bill aims to move these claims away from tort law and into the control of workers comp insurers and employers, critics believe the move could make claims more complicated for injured workers and their families. The bill’s chief sponsor, Pennsylvania Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Westmoreland, has not made any comments on the bill, which now sits with the House’s Committee on Labor and Industry.

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