Workers’ comp bill on Pritzker’s desk will expose more companies to asbestos lawsuits, attorney says

Some companies may be exposed to more asbestos lawsuits under proposed legislation now on Illinois Gov. J.B Pritzker’s desk.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1596, which has passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, attempts to overturn a 2015 Illinois Supreme Court ruling in Folta v. Ferro Engineering, which essentially barred the plaintiff from suing in civil court and upheld the time limits on workers’ compensation claims.

The bill allows for certain asbestos and other occupational disease and injury claims out of the workers’ compensation system. It will allow certain individuals to sue in civil court.

SB1596, which is on Pritzker’s desk, may open up companies to more asbestos claims, according to defense attorneys. It will allow those who had been barred from filing workers’ compensation suits under a 25-year statute of repose for occupational injury to take action in civil court.

“If and when the new bill is signed into law, it is reasonable to believe that some companies under the right circumstances may experience more exposure to premises asbestos claims,” Andrew R. German of the Husch Blackwell law firm told the Cook County Record. “The new law proposes to strip these companies of some of the defenses and protections that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act once provided them.”

The bill passed by the Senate and House largely along party lines.

The bill is supported by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Citizens Action Illinois and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Those opposing include the Illinois Civil Justice League, US Steel, Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, Chubb North America, Illinois Insurance Association and Southern Illinois Employers Association.

In Folta v. Ferro Engineering, the plaintiff was barred from taking action under the Workers’ Compensation Act suing under the “25-year statute of repose for occupational injury” and three-year limitation for occupational disease.

When the plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he was not able to file a workers’ comp claim. He then attempted to sue in Cook County Circuit Court, a case that was argued up to the Supreme Court.

This article was first published by Cook County Record.

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