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Pritzker Signs Asbestos Tort-Claims Bill Into Law

Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | 794 | 0 | 82 min read

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed into law Senate Bill 1596, which will allow tort claims to be filed after the state's occupational-disease statute of limitation expires.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Business groups have criticized the bill and have urged the governor to veto it. Late Friday, Pritzker sided with his Democratic colleagues in the Illinois legislature and approved the measure. He said the law is needed because the 25-year-statute of limitation in some cases was shorter than the medically recognized time period in which some diseases, including asbestos-related illnesses, are known to manifest themselves, according to a statement from Pritzker's office.

"SB 1596 protects victims' access to justice beyond that time limit," the statement reads.

SB 1596 passed the legislature March 20 and the governor had 60 days to sign it into law or veto it. If he had done nothing, the bill would have become law without his signature.

The bill has been welcomed by worker advocates because the state's current workers' compensation and occupational disease law has a 25-year statute of repose. After that, occupational disease claims — comp and tort — are barred, according to the 2015 state Supreme Court ruling in Folta v. Ferro Engineering.

Some business and insurance groups have worried that the bill would make tort claims retroactive, but a few defense attorneys have suggested that the measure contains no mention of retroactivity, and that has been frowned on by the courts, anyway. If courts hold that to be the case, it could mean that lawsuits over asbestos won't be allowed until 2044.

Still, the law is expected to face a number of challenges in court in coming years, lawyers have said.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Elgie R. Sims Jr. and Rep. Jay Hoffman. It takes effect immediately.

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