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You Shouldn't Have To Fight For Workers' Comp Benefits

Court opens door to employer liability for late-developing ills

Every workplace has its hazards. Most of the time the threat to worker safety is easily identified and if a workplace injury occurs, provisions of workers' compensation coverage call for a pay-out of benefits for medical treatment. Wage compensation is available in certain circumstances, as are death benefits.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put to rest one issue regarding an employer's possible liability related to what are called latent occupational diseases. These would be work-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, which may not be diagnosed for many decades after a worker has suffered the toxic exposure.

At issue were competing claims in two consolidated lawsuits. In both, male workers who were exposed to asbestos as part of their years on their jobs, and their widows, sued seeking compensation for the mesothelioma that killed the men. They listed their employers and other defendants in their actions.

In defending against the suits, the employers argued that the diagnoses came well after a 300-week limit for action that is specified in the state's workers' compensation law. On that basis, and since other non-employer defendants were being sued, the employers said they should be excluded from any liability.

The trial court disagreed and ruled the employers could be sued. But that ruling was overturned on an appeal. Then, late last month, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court's original finding.

The majority of the court said that if the employers' 300-week exclusion argument were to be accepted, it could leave employees who suffer from late-manifesting work-related injuries and illnesses without any means to seek compensation from negligent employers. The justices specifically noted that this might be the case with mesothelioma victims because its average latency period can run 30 to 50 years.

We offer this as an example of how the law is not static. It can change as the world around us changes. Because of that, it's always advisable for individuals who suffer injury or illness on the job to consult an experienced attorney to be sure they know their rights.

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

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