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Workers' Comp And Exposure To Toxins: What You Should Know

Law Blog

A lot of on-the-job injuries are sudden: somebody falls off a ladder or stumbles over a tool left in the wrong spot on the floor. However, many jobs expose workers to health risks that accumulate over time—exposure to chemical contaminants can cause damage to a person's body on a cellular level over time and lead to permanent damage and death. When that happens, getting workers' comp to pay benefits to the employee (or his or her survivors) can be a difficult battle. Here's what you should know about workers' comp and occupational illness or disease if you think that you're a victim.

Workers face significant hurdles when filing these types of claims.

Workers' comp can be difficult to get after toxin exposure simply because employers in different industries that work with dangerous and potentially toxic chemicals push for limits on the system and insurers are reluctant to pay. Some experts estimate that 95% of fatal occupational diseases are never actually covered by workers' comp.

What other barriers do workers face when they try to file claims?

  • Workers may not know that they were exposed to something toxic, or not know exactly what that toxin was. This makes it hard for doctors to link exposure to the toxin to a specific disease. For example, the dangers of asbestos exposure were unknown at one time. 
  • Workers may not know when their last exposure to the toxin was, which makes it difficult to meet the statute of limitations on filing even when those are extended for cases of toxin exposure.
  • An illness may develop too long after the final exposure. For example, bladder cancer, which can be caused by exposure to metalworking fluids, may take 40 years to develop.
  • Evidence can be lost or destroyed. Since illnesses like cancer develop slowly, records of chemical spills and leaks at the workplace can go missing over time due to poor record keeping.

There's also evidence that many people simply don't even attempt to file a claim. At least one study indicates that only 9%-45% of workers who suffer from occupational illnesses even file a claim. Employees of larger companies and men are less likely than employees of smaller companies and women to file such a claim. It's possible that many workers don't realize they even have the right to file a claim.

Some diseases are known to be the result of exposure to workplace toxins.

One of the things that can benefit workers in your position is that there are some diseases that have a clear connection to occupational exposure to workplace toxins. Some hazardous materials are also clearly known to be poisonous. Each state maintains its own list of diseases that are recognized under its particular workers' comp system. For example, in North Carolina, epitheliomatous cancer after exposure to tar, pitch, and several other substances is a listed disease.

If you're struggling with an illness that you suspect is related to exposure to on-the-job toxins, talk to a workers' compensation attorney today. An attorney can help navigate the system in your state and provide advice based on your specific situation. Read more about workers compensation by reading the rest of this blog. 


31 March 2016