Missouri Mesothelioma Victims Not Limited to Workers’ Comp Claims

Generally, under Missouri law, workers' compensation provides an "exclusive remedy" to employees who suffer work-related injuries. Thus, most workers must rely on workers' compensation benefits when they are injured on the job and generally are not able to bring a civil negligence lawsuit against their employers.

However, a recent state Court of Appeals decision has changed this rule as it relates to Missouri asbestos exposure victims and workers suffering from other occupational diseases. These injured workers are no longer limited by the workers' compensation "exclusive remedy rule."

Asbestos-Related Diseases not Caused by "Accident"

The case concerned a man who was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working for Kansas City Power and Light for 34 years. He claimed that he was frequently exposed to asbestos-containing products while working for KCP & L and brought negligence and premises liability claims against the company. He also sued 16 asbestos-products manufacturers and several "John Doe" defendants that allegedly contributed to his asbestos exposure.

KCP & L sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming that the man was limited to the remedies provided by Missouri workers' compensation law.

The court disagreed. It noted that the language of the workers' compensation statute only calls for an exclusive remedy in claims arising from a work-related "accident." However, the language of the statute also differentiates between injuries caused by accident and injuries caused by occupational disease. Thus, because the man's mesothelioma was caused by an occupational disease and not an accident, he was not barred from suing his employer for negligence.

What Does This Mean for Injured Workers?

The Missouri Court of Appeals' ruling is a departure from earlier law and represents a great victory for Missouri workers who have contracted occupational diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and certain cancers. It means that workers whose disease was caused by their employers' negligence may be entitled to recover compensation above and beyond that provided by workers' compensation. For example, they may be awarded damages for pain and suffering or lost earning capacity.

Asbestos-related claims are often extremely complex and involve multiple defendants in addition to the injured person's employer. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or any other asbestos-related disease, it's important that you choose an experienced attorney who is well-versed in the details of asbestos litigation.