Pennsylvania Supreme Court Allows Employees to File Civil Lawsuits against Employers

On November 22, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced its majority and dissenting opinions in Tooey v. AK Steel and Landis v. A.W. Chesterton, in which the majority held, “[C]laims for occupational disease which manifests outside the 300-week period prescribed by the [Workers’ Compensation Act] do not follow within the purview of the act, and, therefore, . . . the exclusivity provision of section 303(a) does not apply to preclude an employee from filing a common law claim against an employer.” This reverses the prior decision of the Superior Court. Each of these claims involve mesothelioma. Based upon statutory interpretation and legislative intent, the Court found that the 300-week time window operated as a “de facto exclusion of coverage under the act for essentially all mesothelioma claims.” The Court did note that the employee, by pursuing a negligence claim against the employer in a civil action, will bear a higher burden of proof regarding causation and liability, and employers will retain their common law defenses, including all affirmative defenses, to the negligence claims. The opinion did not specifically address which theories of recovery or other causes of action would now be available to these injured employees.