If you suffer from a work-related injury or illness, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Typically, these benefits include:

  • Wage loss or disability/indemnity payments,
  • Necessary medical treatment, and
  • Vocational rehabilitation.

You cannot receive compensation for your pain and suffering in a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ comp law varies from state-to-state. Depending on your location, your rights and duties under the law may vary dramatically. If you have a specific question about your state’s workers’ compensation system, you should contact a lawyer.

What is an Occupational Disease or Illness?

An occupational disease is either caused or significantly worsened by your work activities or environment. Some examples of occupational diseases include:

  • Asbestosis, black lung and other respiratory diseases,
  • Contact dermatitis and other skin conditions,
  • Heart disease
  • Hepatitis C and other blood borne illnesses, and
  • Mesothelioma and other cancers.

Some states, such as Ohio and North Carolina, have schedules (or lists) of covered occupational diseases. Other states evaluate occupational illnesses on a case-by-case basis. Some states also offer additional protections for law enforcement and firefighters.

Can an Employee File for Workers’ Comp if He or She Becomes Ill?

If you suffer from a work-related illness, you may file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In most states, you must notify your employer of your condition and request payment of benefits. However, workers’ comp laws vary from state-to-state. Make sure you understand and follow your state’s claims process.

Most states also have time limitations on occupational disease claims. If you do not file a workers’ compensation claim within these deadlines, your benefits will be automatically denied. Again, these time limits vary from state-to-state.

When Can an Employee Get Workers’ Compensation for an Illness?

An occupational disease must have a clear connection to your job. Typically, you must have medical evidence or testimony that directly links the illness to your work. For example, if your doctor reports that your contact dermatitis was caused by a specific chemical exposure at work, you may be entitled to benefits.

Sometimes, an illness may be caused by multiple factors. Depending on the facts, these illnesses may also be covered by workers’ comp. For example:

A foundry worker was exposed to asbestos and other respiratory irritants at work. He also smokes cigarettes. He is diagnosed with a chronic lung condition.
A police officer suffers a heart attack while chasing a suspect. He also had a family history of heart disease.

In these situations, many states require that your illness or disease was substantially caused or advanced by your work activities. Again, medical evidence is necessary to prove your claim.

If you have questions about an occupational disease claim and workers’ compensation benefits, it may be in your best interest to contact a lawyer. A workers’ comp lawyer can review your medical records and advise you of your legal rights.

What If a Disease Arises After the Employee Leaves or Retires?

Sometimes, a worker may discover an occupational illness after he or she retires or leaves a job. Typically, retired and former employees may still file a workers’ compensation claim. However, you must meet your state’s filing and notice deadlines. Additionally, many states limit or reduce a retired employee’s wage loss or disability benefits.

What If the Illness Occurs Because of a Third Party?

Infections may occur during medical treatment—especially during hospitalizations and after surgeries. In most states, a worker may receive benefits for an infection that was caused by work-related medical treatment. However, there are limitations.

Sometimes, an accident or medical malpractice is considered an “intervening cause”—which may result in a denial of benefits. Workers’ compensation benefits may be denied if the intervening cause “breaks the chain” of work relationship. In other words, you must prove there is a  “but for” relationship between the illness and the work injury to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Examples:

A worker suffered from a work-related blister. He attempted to drain the blister on his own, which resulted in a severe infection and an amputation. The court found that there was a “but for” relationship between the blister and the infection and he received workers’ compensation.  (Dunteman v. IWCC, 2016.)

A kiln operator underwent a diagnostic surgery that found silica-related lung disease. Due to the stress of the operation, he developed bleeding ulcers—which resulted in his death. The court found that his widow was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. (Knox Porcelain Corp. v. Dockery, 442 S.W.2d 607 (1969).)

Additionally, if there was medical malpractice, an injured worker may have a negligence claim against the doctor.

Can a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Help Me with an Occupational Disease Claim?

It can be difficult to handle a workers’ comp claim when you are ill. employment lawyers understand the legal and medical issues involved in an occupational disease claim. Hiring a workers’ comp lawyer may be in your best interest—he or she can evaluate your claim, advise you of your rights, and appeal a denial of benefits.