On May 17 , 2019, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that lifted restrictions for workers suffering from occupational diseases resulting from exposure to toxic substances such as mesothelioma and lung cancer resulting from asbestos exposure for filing civil actions against their former employers.
Supported primarily by the plaintiffs’ attorney trial bar, Public Act 101-0006 changes the provisions of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Disease Act that had imposed a 25 year statute of repose for occupational injury and a setting 3 year statute of limitations for filing such claims. Under the new Act, while maintaining the existing statute of repose and limitations, it will allow employees to bring civil suits in Illinois Circuit Court against their employers for asbestos or other toxic substance exposures that occurred more than 25 years before diagnosis of a disease such as cancer.
In other words, employers no longer enjoy the “exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation” affirmative defense that they formerly enjoyed. The new law effectively overturns the 2015 Illinois Supreme Court decision of Folta v. Ferro Engineering that held that old exposure claims were time barred as a matter of law. It applies to cases filed by living plaintiffs, as well as wrongful death actions filed on behalf of deceased plaintiffs.
The Act permits the possibility of actual and punitive damages against Illinois employers who will be in all likelihood be unable to find any witnesses and/or documents to resist alarms of long ago exposures by former and current employees.
It can be anticipated that there will be a substantial increase in the numbers of asbestos lawsuits brought against these Illinois employers who may not even have insurance to cover such claims.