In May, Gov. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1596 (Public Act 101-0006), which allows employees with formerly barred asbestos claims to sue their employers directly. This new legislation potentially opens up to liability any employer who had employees before 1994 who worked in buildings built before 1970. Because buildings constructed before that time commonly contained asbestos, workers may have had exposure. Before the legislature passed the new law, employees with asbestos claims were precluded from suing their employers and could not bring workers compensation claims more than 25 years after exposure (so, typically, they sued product manufacturers and non-employer premise owners). Since the enactment of Bill 1596 in May, plaintiffs’ asbestos attorneys have started including employers in asbestos injury lawsuits if the employee’s date of last exposure was prior to 1994. Because prior to May 2019, these employees could not have sued their employers, many employers likely do not have insurance that covers such claims.
The constitutionality of the new law remains unclear. Recent Illinois Supreme Court precedent suggests that allowing plaintiffs with previously barred claims to sue now would run afoul of the Illinois Constitution’s prohibition on the retroactive application of certain laws.
For more than four decades, Sidley lawyers have represented large companies in highly sophisticated toxic tort product liability matters. We have extensive experience taking mass tort cases, including class actions in dozens of states, successfully through trial to verdict and through the appellate process. We understand the science of the full spectrum of major chemicals and substances, including asbestos, greenhouse gases, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, benzene, dioxins, trichloroethylene (TCE), formaldehyde, solvents, diesel exhaust and many other chemicals often involved in tort and nuisance litigation. Our lawyers have presented complex scientific information to courts and juries and have cross-examined and challenged the admission of adverse scientific expert opinions in federal and state courts across the country. We have been at the forefront in case-shortening and case management techniques and expert challenges long before Daubert was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Clients appreciate our ability to solve seemingly intractable problems through novel approaches utilizing Lone Pine orders, value protection programs, mandatory classes and innovative settlement structures. Increasingly, toxic tort litigation involves not only civil litigation, but also parallel or collateral interaction with state and federal regulatory agencies and criminal authorities. We have participated on behalf of our clients at hearings and negotiations in front of numerous agencies and regulatory bodies. In addition, we help clients manage emergency situations where rapid response, strategic insight and litigation know-how are critical.
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