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Another Proposed State Bill Seeks to Limit Asbestos Victims' Rights

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The assault on the rights of workers exposed to asbestos continues. On the heels of bills in Michigan and Missouri that would make it harder for workers suffering from mesothelioma to recover compensation, lawmakers in Pennsylvania are seeking to make asbestos exposure claims the exclusive realm of workers' compensation, effectively depriving victims of the bulk of their compensation.

Why the Push for Workers' Comp?

Workers' compensation is an insurance system whereby by filing a suit in comp court rather than civil court injured workers recover limited compensation for injuries sustained on-the-job from their employers or employer's insurers. In exchange, workers cannot sue their employers in civil court.

The problem with mesothelioma, of course, is its decades-long latency period. Under workers' compensation in Pennsylvania, injured workers have 300 weeks after the last date of employment to file a workers' compensation claim. In other words, workers have approximately five years to file a workers' comp claim after being injured. But, mesothelioma takes anywhere from 10 to 70 years to manifest.

The bill would allow workers exposed to asbestos to file a claim within 300 weeks of receiving a diagnosis. However, the bill still unnecessarily complicates worker mesothelioma claims, and restricts the rights of workers to file a lawsuit in civil court against third parties such as manufacturers, whom have the majority of the liability. It also places the burden on injured workers to prove that their disease has a long latency period, which could affect any worker exposed to hazardous materials.

The bill would also leave workers exposed to asbestos in the hands of workers' compensation insurance companies and employers. This would limit the ways in which workers could recover for their injuries and significantly limit the amount they could recover in damages for their families. Workers' unions oppose the bill, including the AFL-CIO.

A National Push to Limit Asbestos Claims

The bill is part of an ongoing trend in state legislatures to limit the rights of asbestos victims in order to protect negligent companies, most of whom knew it would take decades for their asbestos products to kill workers. In effect, this bill would reverse the decision from five years ago, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that existing law placed an unreasonable burden on workers exposed to asbestos. The Supreme Court, in its 2013 decision, held that the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act did not bar workers suffering from mesothelioma to bring a lawsuit against parties responsible for exposing workers to asbestos.

Fate of the Bill Still Uncertain

The bill is currently in the House Labor and Industry Committee. It is too soon to determine whether it will receive a vote on the floor or whether it will pass into law.

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