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Can I sue my employer for an asbestos-related illness?

According to a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Illinois, the answer depends on the situation you are in. Under certain conditions, you might be able to file a direct civil suit against a former employer for asbestos-related claims, reports the National Law Review.

If you develop an illness as a result of your job, you can file a claim under the Illinois Workers' Occupational Diseases Act or the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act. However, you could sue your employer directly if one of these circumstances existed:

  • The illness did not happen during the course of your employment
  • The illness was intentional
  • The illness did not stem from your employment
  • You are not eligible to receive compensation under the WCA or ODA.

The case involved a man who was diagnosed with mesothelioma 41 years after his job allegedly exposed him to asbestos. The statute of limitations under the law for filing a workers' compensation claim is 25 years. As a result, the man sued his employer directly since he was no longer eligible to file a workers' compensation claim. The employer argued that the wording of the WCA and ODA designate them as the exclusive remedy for workplace illness claims.

While the lower court agreed with the employer, the appellate court ruled that the employee was not eligible to receive compensation since the illness was not diagnosed until after the statute of limitations had expired and therefore he could not sue his employer. The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that the statute of limitations was created with diseases like mesothelioma, which often don't manifest until years later, in mind. Employers, the Court opined, cannot be held liable for workplace illnesses indefinitely.

Therefore, in most cases it is unlikely that you can file a civil law suit against your employer for your asbestos-related illness even if the statute of limitations has run out. This is intended to provide general information on this topic only and should not be considered legal advice.

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