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PA Ruling on Workers’ Compensation Quid Pro Quo Issue

William-M

Many latin phrases are still used in today’s modern English language: bona fide, de facto, verbatim, subpoena, and dozens more. These latin words and phrases are used in the legal world as well, such as quid pro quo. Quid pro quo is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “something that is given to you or done for you in exchange for something you have given or done for someone else.”

This quid pro quo, which translates to “this for that”, is contained in many states’ workers’ compensation statutes. It means an employee is entitled to benefits if injured while on the job without having to prove that their employer was directly negligent or responsible for the injury. In exchange, the employer is protected from being sued in a civil lawsuit.

Most of the time, when this concept applies, it is pretty straight forward in workers’ compensation cases. However, cases that deal with occupational disease, or a disease a person gets either while on the job or as a result of a job, quid pro quo becomes complex.

An example of an occupational disease is the cancer mesothelioma.  According to Cancer.org, symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  • Swelling of face and arms
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the side of your chest or in your lower back

For instance, on November 22, 2013 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently interpreted the state’s worker’s compensation statute about how to deal with certain occupational diseases like mesothelioma. The decision came in the case of Tooey v. AK Steel Corporation.

The Pennsylvania statute is unique. If a person is diagnosed with an occupational disease (like mesothelioma) more than 300 weeks after they stop working, then they cannot file a worker’s compensation claim. Mr. Tooey was diagnosed after the state statute of limitations and wasn’t eligible for workers’ compensation. Instead, his estate sued his former employer in civil court.

The complication is that under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, workers cannot sue their employers in civil court according to quid pro quo. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision makes an exception when it comes to occupational diseases like mesothelioma that typically don’t manifest for at least a decade after exposure to asbestos. Because Mr. Tooey missed the 300 week mark, he did not receive workers’ compensation benefits. This means that the quid pro quo protection did not apply and allowed Mr. Tooey to sue his former employer. In short, the Court decided no workers’ compensation benefits, no immunity from being sued in civil court.

This is a unique and newsworthy decision because of the 300 week limitation in Pennsylvania law. As of now, this decision is not the precedent in MD, VA, or Washington DC workers compensation law because these jurisdictions do not have the 300 week limit. However, it is a huge victory for those affected by occupational diseases In Pennsylvania, which is the state with the highest rate of mesothelioma, according to an article on Surviving Mesothelioma, a website dedicated to those afflicted with the terrible disease.

Contact Ashcraft & Gerel Today

If you or someone you love have an occupational illness such as mesothelioma, it is important to know your rights.  Our team of qualified attorneys can help you navigate the complicated legal waters of evaluating your civil rights against your employer and your rights under workers’ compensation law. Contact an attorney at Ashcraft & Gerel today either online or by calling us at 800-829-7037. Each consultation is completely free and confidential.