That’s according to a ruling by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which ruled that so long as the exposure leading to illness fell within one of the exceptions to governmental immunity, the case can proceed. The case is noteworthy for the fact that often, suing an employer for workplace injuries is barred under workers’ compensation exclusivity rules.
According to the case’s court records , plaintiff worked for the district as a high school mathematics teacher for a single year in the late 1950s. At the time, she was allegedly exposed to asbestos coming from dust in the pipes found in stairways, classrooms and hallways of the school. Of course, at that time many schools were constructed with asbestos-laden materials, including floor tiles, ceiling tiles and insulation. This was especially true for those who worked in the schools, those who were exposed to it day after day for years.
Plaintiff in this case received a mesothelioma diagnosis in the fall of 2013. Prior to her death, she and her husband filed a personal injury lawsuit against the school district, as did 40 other defendants, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff died in the summer of 2016.
Prior to her death, the school district filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting it was immune as a government entity. The district’s duty to provide a safe workplace, it argued, didn’t fall within any of the exceptions for waiver of immunity under the state’s tort claims act. Further, the school argued, plaintiff was injured by products that were made, sold and distributed by third parties and it could not be held liable for the wrongdoing of others.
Although plaintiff alleged that she experienced exposure to asbestos occupationally, there were reportedly no asbestos-containing products in her classroom, and the district further asserted that no evidence had been presented that would indicate the school or its employees knew about the asbestos hazards when she worked there.
Trial court denied defendant’s motion.
The school district appealed, and the matter was reviewed before the Commonwealth Court, contending it was not liable for plaintiff’s injuries caused by workplace exposure to asbestos on grounds of governmental immunity.
The court ruled the school had a common-law duty to protect plaintiff from asbestos exposure, finding her claims did fall within the “real property” and “utility service facilities” exceptions to the state’s tort claims act.
Although job-related cancers – including mesothelioma – comprise one of the largest percentages of occupational deaths and related costs in the U.S., workers’ compensation claims pertaining to asbestos exposure can be very tricky from a legal standpoint for a number of reasons. If you choose to file a workers’ compensation claim – and also a third-party lawsuit – you should know your employer may have grounds to seek reimbursement for a portion of what you collect from third parties. This prevents double recovery.
If you have suffered an occupational illness, our attorneys can help you determine what type of claim(s) to file.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Geier v. Board of Public Education of the School District of Pittsburgh, Jan. 25, 2017, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
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South Carolina Appeals Court Affirms Construction Worker Injury Benefits Denial, Feb. 24, 2017, Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog