Recent Legislation Could Subject Employers to Civil Liability for Latent Work-Related Injuries

Illinois lawmakers have once again attempted to address the perceived injustices associated with long-standing statues of repose that bar claims of asbestos-related diseases diagnosed many years after a plaintiff was exposed during their employment.  Senate Bill 1596, which has now passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, amends the Illinois Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Diseases Acts (the “Acts”) to allow employees to recover civil damages for latent injuries that are otherwise time-barred.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Folta v. Ferro Eng’g, 2015 IL 118070, held that the exclusive remedy provision barred employees from bringing civil suits against their employers, even when their occupational diseases were not diagnosed until after the 25-year period in which they could bring a workers’ compensation claim had expired.  Folta thus prevented certain plaintiffs from obtaining any remedy from their employers for latent occupational diseases.  In response, lawmakers have addressed this perceived injustice by amending the exclusive remedy provision to allow employees whose workers’ compensation claims for occupational diseases are barred by the applicable statute of repose to bring civil suits against their employers.  The legislature enacted SB 1596 in an effort to revive certain asbestos-related lawsuits that were previously barred by the Workers’ Compensation system’s exclusive remedy provision.

SB 1596’s prospective application would allow employees to recover civil damages for latent injuries that are otherwise time-barred by the Acts’ repose provisions and removes the exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission over these injuries. Governor Pritzker is expected to sign this bill.  For more information regarding SB 1596 and how it will affect your business, contact the attorneys at Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC.

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