Occupational Disease. Obtain the compensation you deserve!

An occupational disease is an ailment, disorder, or illness which is the result of work under conditions naturally inherent in the employment and which is ordinarily slow and insidious in its origin. What this means is if you work under the same conditions for a long period of time or do the same type of activity over and over again over a long period of time and this eventually causes the body to wear out or causes some disease to occur and if this condition is very common in the type of work that you do, then these are considered occupational diseases and are a compensable injury covered by workers’ compensation. Another form of an occupational disease occurs when manifestation of symptoms is consistent with those known to result from exposure to a biological, chemical, or physical, agent that is attributable to the type of employment in which the employee was employed.

Examples of occupational diseases are:

  • carpal tunnel in grocery clerk
  • heart disease in police officer

In order to have an occupational disease, there must be a disablement incurred by the employee as a result of the occupational disease. If you have a technical occupational disease-meaning the medical diagnosis, but miss no time from work, you may not have a compensable occupational disease. For that reason, it is important to make sure the doctor gives you 3 days off from work in order to recover from your injury and that you in fact take those three days off. If there is no lost time or the court does not accept your loss time as being due to the disabling condition, then it may be sufficient and necessary to argue that the disablement caused only partial disability. Many commissioners consider other sets of facts as disabling including,the necessity to take medication when accompanied by disabling symptoms even if no work is lost, you are in pain while working and cannot do all of the functions of your job, you need help from others to do your job or additional time to do your job or accommodations to do your job.

What does conditions naturally inherent in the employment mean? In order to meet this test, you must first decide what the employee does. Then you need to see if other people who work for the same employer have the same condition. It is not essential that others in the same employment have the same injury especially if it is a small employer, but it is certainly helpful. It is not necessary that everyone in the employment has the same condition, but one or a few employees will begin to show a pattern. In addition, it is sufficient if employees who typically do the same type of job for other employers tend to develop this condition that would show it is inherent in the employment, even if no one at your employment has the condition as long as the job duties are similar.

It is not sufficient to show conditions naturally inherent in the employment, if the conditions are peculiar to your job situation, but not to the type of work you do. As an example, it is not an occupational disease when your employer harasses you and you develop a psychiatric condition, because harassment is not inherent in the type of work you do but only inherent because of the boss you happen to have and if you had a better boss you would not have these problems. Overtime or extra work cannot be used as a basis to turn a non-occupational disease into one if overtime is not inherent in the type of work you do. However post-traumatic stress suffered by a paramedic or air traffic controller could be an occupational disease because these professions are the type of employment where they are exposed to traumatic events and are known to have an incidence of psychiatric problems

The length of time the employee has been exposed to the hazard of the employment is a key factor. If you develop the medical condition a week after you start working there it is less likely to be accepted as an occupational disease then if you have been working for the employer for a longer period of time.

If an occupational exposure aggravates a prior condition, but has not caused a new condition, the aggravation is not a compensable workers compensation claim. Assume you already have tendonitis in your hand before you start at a new job. The new job involves repetitive activity eight hours a day which makes your underlying tendonitis in your wrist much worse requiring surgery. Ordinarily under Maryland occupational disease law this would not be a valid occupational disease since it is considered an aggravation of an underlying condition. If you aggravated the underlying condition by having an accident at work rather than an occupational disease, then a valid workers compensation claim would exist.As an example if you fell on the hand that had tendonitis and that aggravated the tendonitis that would be covered by workers compensation, however if the aggravation was just due to repeated activity at work it would likely not be a workers compensation claim. The one exception, is if the doctor will testify that the tendonitis would have occurred from the repeat activity  even if you did not have the underlying tendonitis before you started working there.

The last issue involved in an occupational disease case is which employer is responsible. You may have done similar work for many different employers over your life. Which one does the law hold responsible? The law in Maryland is the employer with whom the employee had the last injurious exposure to the hazards of the disease prior to the employee first sustaining a disablement and the insurer on the risk at the time of the exposure are responsible to pay all benefits due the employee for the compensable occupational disease. In a situation where you do repetitive work for employer one and while you start to develop symptoms and may get some treatment but you miss no time from work, and then you go to work for a new employer doing the same type of work but now you are worse and start missing time from work, the second employer will be liable for the occupational disease. While the second employer will try their best to show that you had some disablement during the first job in order to avoid responsibility.

Finally, Under Maryland Law, there are certain medical conditions, that are presumed to be inherent in the employment and therefore carry a presumption under the law that they are occupational diseases and are therefore considered compensable. Most of the presumed occupational diseases are for public employees who have lobbied the legislature to insure that medical conditions that frequently arise in people in their profession are accepted as workers compensation claims without requiring the public employee to prove that these conditions are work related which can be a complicated and expensive task.Examples of diseases that are presumed are hypertension and heart disease in fire fighters sheriff and police.In addition lung disease and certain cancers are presumed occupational diseases in most firefighters if they were employed by the fire department for at least 5 years. Finally lime disease in certain public park workers.


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