Health and Safety

What is an Occupational Disease?

June 21, 2011
By Matthew A. Funk, Esq. Brecher Fishman Pasternack Walsh Tilker & Ziegler, P.C.

Worker’s Compensation Corner

Most of us know that Workers Compensation Law protects workers who become injured on the job. Under the law, workers can be compensated for accidental injuries, which often happen suddenly and traumatically at the work site. No big surprises there.

But what about injuries that develop over time? You know, let’s say a worker develops a condition or disability based on a repetitive aspect of his occupation would that be covered too?

Yes it definitely would. It is a called an occupational disease, and it is completely covered under the law.

Really? Good to know — but how can I tell if my injury counts as an occupational disease?

Well, for an injury to count as an occupational disease, there must be a feature that’s distinctive to the claimant’s employment that caused the condition to develop. For instance a construction worker who lifts heavy bags of cement for 10 years and is diagnosed with tear in the knee without any incident may have a claim for an occupational disease. Another more typical case is a data-entry worker who develops carpal tunnel syndrome from heavy computer work. Hearing loss resulting from noisy workplaces can also be a case for occupational disease.

Okay, but what happens if a worker experiences this once he has left the workplace? Could he still file a claim if he’s no longer employed at the job where his occupational disease took root?

Yes he can! A claimant can file a claim for benefits under the occupational disease statute even if the diagnosis comes long after the claimant has left the harmful work environment. This is a common feature of slow-starting job related diseases, like silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The claim must be filed within two years of the date of disablement. Typically, this is the date that the claimant was diagnosed with the occupational disease. Other factors such as the date of first lost time from work can be used as a date of disablement. Usually, however, the date of first diagnosis is determinative.

And I assume this involves some kind of paperwork…?

True — it’s called a C-3 claim form. The claim is filed against the last employer that placed the claimant in the harmful environment. Even if the claimant worked for multiple employers over the course of the work career the claim must be filed against the claimant’s last employer. On the C-3 form the injured worker must explain the job duties that caused the development of his/her disability.

Got it. Now, I will probably need verification from my physician… What should I tell him to be sure to include in his report?

The medical report must contain an occupational history of the nature of the claimant’s job as it relates to the development of the disability. The report must also make a connection between the disability and the worker’s occupational history.

Hmm. I’m beginning to suspect that just like an accidental injury, I’ll need to notify my employer within 30 days of my occupational disease… am I right?
 
Actually you’d have even more time. Unlike an accidental injury claim, the claimant diagnosed with an occupational disease has up to two years from the date of disablement to notify the employer and file the claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board.

All right, but what about benefits? Are the benefits for an occupational disease the same as an accidental injury?

Correct. If a claim is established as compensable for an occupational disease the injured worker is entitled to the same benefits as a worker who has an accidental injury. The worker with an occupational disease would be entitled to both monetary awards and medical coverage for the injury.

Wow, that’s a lot of helpful information. Actually, I think I may even have a claim, but I’m not sure when I should file…

That one’s simple. You should file right away.

To benefit from the occupational disease section of the Workers’ Compensation Law, an injured worker should immediately file a claim upon knowledge that a medical condition may have been caused by their work. This will insure that the worker is not time barred from securing medical and indemnity benefits for the condition.

For more questions on occupational disease or anything relating to workers compensation contact us at: mfunk@workerslaw.com or call at (347) 952-4228.

Matthew Funk Esq.Matthew Funk, a partner at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP, has been practicing Workers’ Compensation Law for over a decade. He is a member of the Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, Injured Workers Bar Association and the New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).  He has written for the New York State Trial Lawyers Workers’ Compensation Decisions program and has lectured on numerous occasions focusing on Workers Compensation Law.  

 

June 21, 2011

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