On May 17, 2019, Illinois Governor Pritzker signed SB 1596 into law as Public Act 101-6. The law amends the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act (“WC Act”) and Occupational Diseases Act (“OD Act”). SB 1596 provides that provisions of the WC and OD Acts “limiting recovery do not apply to injuries or death resulting from an occupational disease as to which the recovery of compensation benefits under the Act would be precluded due to the operation of any period of repose or repose provision.”
The provisions affected by SB 1596 include Section 6(c) of the WC Act and Section 1(f) of the OD Act, both of which apply to injuries related to exposure to “radiological materials or equipment or asbestos” and injuries caused by “berylliosis or by inhalation of silica dust or asbestos dust.” The provisions do not apply to every injury covered by the WC and OD Acts.
The new law exposes employers to civil actions outside the jurisdiction and intent of the WC and OD Acts, including the exclusivity provision of the WC Act. The amendment allows an employee, or his heirs, or anyone having standing under the law, to bring a civil action against an employer or employers.
SB 1596 expands liability of employers, but only in the context of injuries enumerated in Section 6(d) of the WC Act and Section 1(f) of the OD Act. Specifically, injuries related to “radiological materials or equipment or asbestos” and injuries caused by “berylliosis or by inhalation of silica dust or asbestos dust.” We believe other injuries are not impacted by SB 1596.
For injuries involving asbestos and radiological materials, the amendment could have an adverse effect on the intent of the WC and OD Acts. Under a civil cause of action, the employer could be exposed to large judgments that do not limit recovery, including punitive damages. Further, an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance may not cover civil causes of action, putting some businesses in danger of financial ruin. Even if the employee succeeds in civil court, businesses without insurance coverage may not have the means to fulfill civil awards that include large monetary judgments.
There are other concerns for the business community with SB 1596. Businesses will bear the additional costs of defending civil actions, including the costs associated with discovery and appeals. The intent of the WC and OD Acts to limit legal costs is undermined by civil actions that may expose employers to years of discovery and appeals.
Overall, we find the amendment narrowly applies to injuries involving “radiological materials or equipment or asbestos” and injuries caused by “berylliosis or by inhalation of silica dust or asbestos dust.” Our attorneys will continue to monitor how the new law impacts the business community.