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Court Ruling Opens New Avenue of Liability in PA Asbestos Cases

A three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court recently delivered a ruling that could provide teachers suffering from asbestos-related illnesses the opportunity to sue school districts for negligence. As reported in The Legal Intelligencer, governmental immunity has prevented teachers from filing asbestos litigation against school districts. But the ruling in Geier v. Board of Public Education of the School District of Pittsburgh states such immunity does not relieve school districts from their “common-law duty to create reasonably safe conditions of employment.” Yet, to prevail, a plaintiff teacher would still have to prove “the condition causing exposure falls within one of the exceptions to governmental immunity.”

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In Geier, plaintiff Marianne M. Geier worked for the school district (PBE) as a math teacher at South High School from the fall of 1958 through the summer of 1959. During that time, Judge Robert Simpson observed, Ms. Geier was exposed to asbestos dust from pipe coverings on steam and water pipes located in the hallways, stairways and classrooms.

In October 2013, Geier was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She and her husband filed suit against PBE and 40 corporate defendants with businesses related to asbestos products. Geier died in July 2016.

PBE filed for summary judgment, asserting government immunity under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act and the state constitution. The trial court denied the motion and PBE filed an interlocutory appeal, arguing the eight recognized exceptions to governmental immunity do not include an alleged failure to provide a safe workplace.

But the appeals court, relying on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Tooey v. AK Steel, found that the school district had a common-law duty as an employer to protect its employee from the hazards of asbestos exposure. The appeals court then addressed whether the conditions at the school that caused Ms. Geier’s exposure fell under any of the exceptions to governmental immunity and found the Ms. Geier’s claims fell within the real property and utility service facilities exceptions to the Tort Claims Act.

This ruling is good news for any public employee who has developed asbestos-related illnesses due to exposure at work.

If you are suffering from an occupational illness due to toxic exposure at work in western Pennsylvania, Rudberg Law Offices, LLC can help. Call 412-488-6000 or contact our Pittsburgh office online to schedule a free consultation.

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