Many people don’t realize that there are two kinds of workers’ compensation claims in Washington State, industrial injury claims and occupational disease claim. Today I participated in a deposition involving the issue of whether a claim should be allowed as an occupational disease. This case, like many occupational diseases claims I see, is plagued by a lack of understanding about occupational disease claims coupled with mis-information, so I’ve decided a post about occupational diseases is warranted.
If we go to trial regarding allowance of an occupational disease, the jury is instructed as to the meaning of occupational disease. The pattern jury instruction for occupational disease states:
“An occupational disease is a disease or infection that arises naturally and proximately out of the worker’s employment.”
“A disease arises naturally out of employment if the disease comes about as a matter of course as a natural consequence of the distinctive conditions of the worker’s employment. It is not necessary that the conditions be peculiar to, or unique to, the particular employment.”
“A disease does not arise naturally out of employment if it is caused by conditions of everyday life or all employments in general. A disease arises proximately out of employment if the conditions of the worker’s employment proximately caused or aggravated the worker’s disease including the aggravation of a pre-existing non-work-related disease.”
No wonder there is so much confusion regarding occupational diseases! Put more simply, an occupational disease is a condition or disease that is caused or aggravated, at least in part, by distinctive conditions of a worker’s employment. For example, if you work in sheet metal, spend significant portions of each day repetitively and forcefully snipping sheets of metal with snips, and gradually develop numbness and tingling in your hands, you may have developed an occupational disease condition.
Most frequently, when occupational disease claims are rejected, they are rejected because the doctor lacked enough accurate information to provide a compelling opinion for claim allowance. Therefore, when I speak with individuals that believe they have an occupational disease claim, I often suggest that they see a doctor to better understand whether their symptoms correlate with a medical diagnosis. However, in addition to informing the doctor of the symptoms, it is also extremely important to provide a clear history of the onset and development of symptoms, as well as to concisely but accurately convey key details about the physical demands of their job. When a doctor is able to formulate an opinion based upon a correlation between work activities, symptoms and the resulting diagnosis, the likelihood of the occupational disease claim being allowed increases significantly.