Tooey Analysis Extended to Occupational Disease Act24 Februari 2023
In Herold v. University of Pittsburgh,1 the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed a Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County decision, holding that: (1) common law claims for occupational diseases occurring four years after the employee’s last workplace exposure are not precluded under the Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act (ODA), and (2) claimants need not first proceed through the workers’ compensation administrative process and be rejected before filing an ODA civil claim.
Specifically, the court confirmed the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s analysis in Tooey v. AK Steel,2 which overturned nearly a century of precedent barring tort claims by employees for latent diseases under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Herold court extended that analysis to the ODA and held that common law claims for occupational diseases manifesting four years after the last date of workplace exposure are not precluded under the ODA.
The court also rejected the argument that employees must first exhaust administrative relief from the Workers’ Compensation Board before filing an ODA claim. The court held that transferring the claim between the administrative and civil court systems would be inefficient because civil courts are equally capable of determining the latency of an employee’s occupational disease.
With this decision, Pennsylvania employers are left with little room to challenge the Tooey decision, leaving them subject to latent occupational disease claims.