Illinois Supreme Court Clears Air on Toxic Torts

lungWhile it’s been decades since lead paint and the use of products containing asbestos have been banned, their toxic effects continue to be felt throughout the country. Because health issues stemming from exposure to toxic materials can take decades to manifest, calls for the Illinois General Assembly to extend the filing deadline for long-tail claims are beginning to gather steam.

This past month, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the decision of the First District Appellate Court which had allowed the estate of James Folta to sue his former employer, Ferro Engineering. Mr. Folta had developed mesothelioma nearly 40 years after his employment at Ferro had exposed him to asbestos. The disease ultimately took his life.

According to workers’ compensation lawyer Phillip A. Bareck, “Under the current law, Mr. Folta had 25 years to file a workers’ compensation claim against the company. He didn’t because he hadn’t developed the disease. While a significant amount of time, it clearly wasn’t long enough. Worse still, he won’t be the last person who falls between the cracks. His case shows that the health effects of exposure to toxic materials can manifest many years after the state’s firm 25-year statutory time limit within the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Disease Act.”

The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision has made it clear that workers seeking compensation from their current or former employers must file their claims with 25-years post-exposure. This statutory limit was set by the Illinois General Assembly to limit the liability of the state, private employers, and insurance companies in regard to long-tail liability claims.

“Human biology is highly variable. Overall health, level of exercise, diet, and a thousand other factors can alter the amount of time it takes for an individual to develop a disease from a toxic exposure. However, the causative factor is the same even though the time for the effect to show could be one year, or fifty years. Ultimately, this case highlights the need for the legislature to revisit the 25-year deadline and amend it so that people like Mr. Folta can receive the compensation and care they deserve.” opined Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer Philip A. Bareck.