Pittsburgh Board of Ed. Can’t Escape Asbestos Liability
Pennsylvania Appeals Court Affirms Ruling that the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education Cannot Hide Behind Governmental Immunity to Avoid Asbestos Liability
In January 2017, a Pennsylvania Appeals Court affirmed the ruling of the trial court that Pittsburgh’s Board of Public Education (“PBPE”) will not be able to use governmental immunity to escape liability for the death of a teacher from mesothelioma. The teacher, who worked at a Pittsburgh high school, was exposed to asbestos dust in the school. She died over 50 years later from mesothelioma. Her estate has brought a claim against PBPE, as well as a number of corporate entities.
What is the Claim?
The plaintiff’s claim alleges that PBPE, as well as the corporate entities at issue, are liable for the death of a school teacher. The teacher was occupationally exposed to asbestos while she taught in the Pittsburgh school district resulting in her developing mesothelioma. She died from the disease in 2013. The claim alleges that her exposure to asbestos dust came from pipe coverings on the steam and water pipes located throughout the school.
The School Board’s Attempt at Claiming Governmental Immunity
PBPE appealed the decision of the trial court which stated that it could not rely on governmental immunity to escape liability for the teacher’s asbestos exposure. PBPE’s contention was that as a governmental entity it could not be held liable for the teacher’s death. The school board argued that failing to provide a safe place to work does not fall within the scope of exceptions to governmental immunity, and therefore, PBPE should be granted summary judgment.
However, the panel for the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The panel explained that public employers, even if they are governmental entities, have a common law duty to ensure that the work environment is safe. This includes maintaining safe structures free from asbestos dust. The attorney for the plaintiff applauded the decision, suggesting that this will allow people who have been truly injured to seek justice and compensation from the parties responsible for the injury.