What To Do If You Develop an Occupational Disease
Most Americans associate workers’ compensation with on-the-job accidents. Workers’ comp certainly applies to these situations, but injuries represent only one of four categories you may receive benefits for. Also on the list are psychiatric illnesses, repetitive motion stress injuries and occupational diseases. At first glance, it may seem like occupational diseases occur only in blue-collar jobs or those involving chemicals and other substances. However, almost anyone can develop an occupational disease.
An experienced attorney can help you determine if yours qualifies for workers’ compensation. He or she can also guide you on how to proceed with filing a claim to ensure you receive every penny you deserve.
What Is an Occupational Disease?
Generally speaking, an occupational disease is a chronic illness that arises from work conditions. However, individual states may create their own individual definitions for workers’ compensation purposes. Occupational diseases can affect any part of the body, including the lungs, heart, bones and muscles.
In some instances, companies may group repetitive stress motion injuries into occupational diseases for the purpose of receiving workers’ compensation. Occupational diseases are not usually contagious, but they can be, especially for people who work in health care.
Workers from any industry can develop occupational diseases. However, they are most common in a handful of industries. These include health care, manufacturing, auto repair and construction. These are some of the most common occupational diseases across America:
- Rabies for animal control workers
- HIV/AIDS for health care workers
- Hearing loss for construction workers
- Asbestosis for architects and project managers
- Carpal tunnel syndrome for journalists
- Hearing loss for factory workers
Are There Any Federal Programs to Help with Occupational Diseases?
Over the past few years, several states have taken steps to reduce the effectiveness of workers’ compensation and their existing labor laws. Red states in the South seem particularly likely to do this. Florida is one commonly cited offender. If you live in a state with weak labor laws, you may worry that you do not have adequate protections in place.
The good news is that there are two federal programs you may benefit from. Even better, if you qualify under these federal programs, you can still take advantage of workers’ compensation benefits at the state level, whenever available.
Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program
Workers previously employed by the Department of Energy, including some contractors and vendors, may seek benefits under this program. The program includes medical benefits and covers occupational diseases resulting from exposure to silica, beryllium or radiation.
In the past, America was fueled by coal and the coal industry played a much bigger role in the economy. As time progressed, workers in the industry developed pneumoconiosis, which results from continued exposure to dust from coal. Workers and the health care community nicknamed the disease the black lung disease. The program pays benefits to workers made ill by the disease. If they pass away, their survivors may become eligible to receive benefits.
What Is the Process for Filing a Claim for an Occupational Disease?
The steps you should take for filing a successful workers’ compensation claim depends on the specific circumstances and the area you live in. How your employer responds to the situation at hand may also play a role. These steps only provide a general idea of what your workers’ comp lawyer may recommend.
1. Seek Medical Attention
If you suspect you are not well, seek medical care. You will need meticulous medical records to document your symptoms, the diagnosis, the source the doctor suspected and the treatment you received. Note that in some states, if you fail to act to preserve your health, even if you win your case, the court may hold you partially responsible.
2. Review Applicable Laws
The first thing you should determine is whether your state considers your condition an occupational disease. Thereafter, you may need to determine whether this is a common illness to develop in your field. An experienced attorney can help you review the laws that apply to your case to determine its strength and advise you on how to proceed.
3. Contact Your Employer
Unlike accident-related work injuries, occupational illnesses can take years to appear. Workers may have moved on to another field. In some cases, the original employer’s business may have even closed down. If you are still employed at the job, you may find it much easier to proceed. Your attorney can advise you on how to notify your employer, what information to submit and the process to follow.
4. File a Claim
When filing a claim for occupational diseases, you need to take more care than you otherwise would with workplace accidents. Your attorney can help you fill out all the necessary paperwork. This reduces the likelihood of rejections due to inaccurate information or errors.
5. Appeal the Decision
If the employer, its insurance company or the court denies your claim, you may have the right to prepare and file an appeal. Your attorney will review the reasons for the denial and find ways to strengthen your case for another round.
Why You Need To Work With an Experienced Attorney
Occupational illnesses are extremely common. In spite of this, workers often still struggle to make a case. The issue is not whether they have the disease but determining who or what is responsible for it. Proving a specific employer has some role to play in the illness can be difficult. This is where most cases fall short and why few people win these cases.
One way attorneys seek to improve the chances of winning is looking for patterns among workers. If you are one of several workers who reported the same occupational illness while working for the same employer, you may improve your chance of winning. Some attorneys also specialize in filing class-action cases for these instances.
Until you speak to a qualified attorney, it is difficult to determine what your options are. Finding one willing to take on an occupational disease case is not always easy. We have willing attorneys at the ready and are committed to connecting you with one. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!