Federal Court holds that an asbestos lawsuit may proceed against an employer under Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Law.
NEWARK, New Jersey, April 1, 2014 – A federal court recently held that a lawsuit filed by a Wyoming worker exposed to asbestos at his workplace may go forward, despite that state’s strict Workers’ Compensation Law. Mesothelioma attorneys at the national asbestos law firm Levy Konigsberg LLP (“LK”) successfully argued that, while the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation law is the exclusive remedy for workers injured on the job (meaning the employee may not sue the employer but may have his or her medical bills paid), it is the burden of each employer defendant, including its parent and subsidiary companies, in an asbestos lawsuit to show that it actually paid into the Workers’ Compensation Fund on behalf of the injured employee. LK attorneys further argued that, if an employer defendant fails to meet the burden of such proof, it loses legal immunity under Wyoming Workers’ Compensation law.
In this case, the plaintiff worked for a major chemical company for 35 years and was exposed to large amounts of asbestos in the course of his duties. The defendant, plaintiff’s employer, failed to satisfy its burden to show that it (or any of its predecessors or subsidiaries) actually paid into the Fund on the behalf of the plaintiff. Accordingly, the federal court denied the company’s motion to dismiss the claim and the lawsuit will proceed to trial in New Jersey’s federal court.
As Workers’ Compensation laws have a short statute of limitations (the period of time in which to file a claim), there is generally no means for asbestos victims to recover under such laws, since asbestos-related diseases often do not appear for several decades. Most Workers’ Compensation laws state that a worker must file a claim within one year of injury – defining the “injury” as the date of exposure to a toxic substance, rather than the date when a resulting illness is diagnosed. The inequity of these laws in asbestos cases is clear – workers have no “injury” which could be compensable until long after the statute of limitations has run. Thus, the employer, who compelled a worker to be exposed to a hazardous substance in the course of his or her job and did not provide any warnings, is often immune to suit, leaving the victim without any recourse or compensation for medical bills, pain or suffering. In asbestos cases, it is important to have an attorney who carefully examines the applicable state laws and knows when and how to argue that they do not apply to a particular claim.