Occupational Disease Claims for Workers' Compensation in NC
Most people only think of workplace injuries as coming from accidents. Something unexpected just happens and the injury is obvious. But there’s another workplace injury that can be just as harmful – if not more. An occupational illness can affect every aspect of your life, including your lifespan. And the tricky thing is that you might not even know it’s happening.
Occupational diseases can be debilitating and even fatal. If you believe you are suffering from an occupational illness, do not hesitate to contact an attorney immediately and file a workers’ compensation claim.
What Are Occupational Diseases in North Carolina?
Occupational diseases are conditions or illnesses caused by your work duties or exposure to harmful substances in your work environment. These conditions vary from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) to asbestosis. Many conditions, like repetitive trauma injuries, fall under a catchall provision of the law. Employees not only have to show that work-related duties caused the injury, but they also increase the risk that an employee would sustain the injury.
Some hazardous substances and medical conditions are even listed by name in North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act:
Listed Common Occupational Diseases and Injuries – These are conditions where just the diagnosis and the exposure at work are generally enough to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
- Arsenic poisoning
- Brass poisoning
- Zinc poisoning
- Manganese poisoning
- Lead poisoning (“If the employee shall have been exposed to the hazard of lead poisoning for at least 30 days in the preceding 12 months’ period; and, provided further, only the employer in whose employment such employee was last injuriously exposed shall be liable.”
- Mercury poisoning
- Phosphorus poisoning
- Poisoning by carbon bisulphide, menthanol, naphtha, or volatile halogenated hydrocarbons
- Chrome ulceration
- Compressed-air illness
- Poisoning by benzol, or by nitro and amido derivatives of benzol (dinitrolbenzol, anilin, and others)
- See below
- Epitheliomatous cancer or ulceration of the skin or of the corneal surface of the eye due to tar, pitch, bitumen, mineral oil, or paraffin, or any compound, product, or residue of any of these substances
- Radium poisoning or disability or death due to “radioactive properties of substances or to roentgen rays, X rays or exposure to any other source of radiation.”
- Blisters due to use of tools or appliances in the employment
- Bursitis due to intermittent pressure in the employment
- Miner’s nystagmus
- Bone felon due to constant or intermittent pressure in employment
- Synovitis, caused by trauma in employment
- Tenosynovitis, caused by trauma in employment
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Poisoning by sulphuric, hydrochloric, or hydrofluoric acid
- Undulant fever
- Loss of hearing caused by harmful noise in the employment (There are many rules that go along with this provision.)
- Infection with smallpox, infection with vaccinia, or any adverse medical reaction when the infection or adverse reaction is due to the employee receiving in-employment vaccination
Number 13, the “catchall provision” is what most diseases fall under. If you have an injury, like Carpal Tunnel or Cubital Tunnel, that you think occurred at work, you must prove your eligibility for benefits under this part of the law.
- “Any disease other than hearing loss covered in another subdivision of this section, which is proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, but excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment.” – North Carolina statute 97-53
The types of jobs that cause these types of injuries tend to be in manufacturing, meat processing, or other industrial businesses. The job may have a lot of repetitive use of fingers, hands, wrists, or elbows. It may require frequent use of arms in overhead activities. Pain while doing your work can be because you have an injury caused by your job duties. The question is whether there is something about the job that places you at more risk than the general public for contracting a condition.
How Do I Claim Workers’ Compensation Benefits for an Occupational Disease in North Carolina?
Making a workers’ compensation claim for an occupational disease, like one for an accident, requires the filing of Form 18 with the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Form 18 requires the injured worker to list the injury sustained and what caused the injury at work.
For occupational diseases, that means stating what job duties the worker thinks caused the condition. A worker does not have to be too specific. Form 18 just requires a simple one-sentence explanation of what happened at work to cause the condition.
For example, the worker repetitively uses their hands and wrists while working on a production line, and it causes a hand and wrist injury. A worker has to repeatedly reach over his or her head to pull down material for a part, and it hurts his or her shoulder.
An occupational disease lawyer – a workers’ compensation attorney with experience representing workers in occupational disease cases – can be of great help to workers in this situation. Let us handle the case while you focus on your health.
What Deadlines Will I Face in My Occupational Disease Claim?
There are time limits that apply to workers’ compensation claims for occupational illnesses or diseases. There are two types of deadlines in claims: a “Notice” deadline and a Statute of Limitations deadline. The law assumes that employees know these deadlines whether it has ever been explained to them or not.
One of the challenges to a workers’ comp claim of this kind is that occupational diseases often happen slowly and over time. A worker who doesn’t know the law or contact a lawyer as soon as they realize they’re injured could miss a deadline and find it difficult to pursue compensation. One of our experienced workers’ compensation lawyers can evaluate your situation for free.
What Is Notice and How Do I Give It?
Employees must provide “Notice” of the injury to their employer within 30 days of when a competent medical doctor has told them they have an “occupational disease.”
If you go to the doctor because you are having pain at work doing your job, you likely want to tell your employer. Often employees will tell their supervisor about having pain at work, and they will be sent to a Nurse’s Station or Urgent Care. The employer sending you to a doctor means they have Notice of your injury.
If you go to a doctor on your own because of pain, tell your employer as soon as possible. Let your employer know in writing. An email or even a text message saying, “My doctor told me I was hurt because of my job yesterday,” is all that is required. Filing Form 18 also provides Notice to the employer.
What Is the Statute of Limitation and How Do I Avoid It?
A worker is generally required to file Form 18 to make a workers’ compensation claim within 2 years of when they had notice or were disabled from the job. Disabled means the worker has been unable to work for parts of more than 7 days because of the injury. As attorneys, we file Form 18 as soon as possible to protect our clients’ rights.
In Addition to Filing a Claim, What Do I Have to Prove to Be Compensated for My Occupational Disease?
This is a complex question. Employees must have a doctor or competent medical authority that can testify or provide documentation that the injury or disease was caused by a material or a work duty/activity. Sometimes, it can mean that the work duties aggravated a pre-existing medical condition. The law requires evidence from a competent medical provider to connect the work to the condition.
A medical doctor saying your job caused the injury is insufficient if your condition is not “listed” by N.C. Gen. Stat. §97-53. Workers also need a doctor or other competent medical authority to provide evidence that their job placed them at increased risk for the disease versus the public at large. Doctors sometimes cannot answer this question. At times, employees may need an ergonomic expert or other occupational medical professionals to help them prove their work-related illnesses or injuries.
A North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Workers’ Compensation law with experience with occupational diseases can help you make sense of the law and your rights.
What if My Occupational Disease Claim Is Denied by the Insurance Company or My Employer?
Many times, employers and insurance companies deny occupational disease claims due to the unique nature of the claim. These injuries are not from accidents or sudden unexpected events while doing work. They are from the work itself. Even when employers know the physical stress and trauma certain job duties require, some may delay and deny claims.
Workers have the burden of proving these claims, and need to have very specific evidence to do so. Workers’ compensation attorneys often have to retain non-attorney experts to analyze the nature of a job and how it places a worker at an increased risk for injury. For example, an ergonomic specialist can provide data on which job duties place repetitive stress on the rotator cuff, wrists, or hands.
Doctors also have to explain how the job duties caused an injury. Manufacturing and production jobs often require highly repetitive activities, but that is not sufficient to prove a claim. While you know when you’ve been hurt by your job, the law requires you to provide specific, expert testimony to prove your claim.
In short, insurance companies, employers, and their attorneys know how difficult it can be for workers to prove their claims. Denying the claims helps most companies potentially avoid costs.
What Could I Get as Compensation for My Occupational Disease?
The benefits for an approved occupational disease claim are, in most cases, the same as for other workplace accidents. You are likely entitled to medical care for your injuries. Medical care typically includes surgical costs, prescriptions, and mileage reimbursement, among other things. Eligible workers are also entitled to “disability” benefits. Disability means your doctor has taken you out of work or given you work limitations (such as so-called light duty), and those work restrictions keep you from earning enough or any wages.
Potential payments for time out of work are 2/3rds of your average weekly wages. If you earn less money on light duty per week, you may be entitled to partial disability benefits for 2/3rds of the difference.
You may also be entitled to payment for a permanent injury or condition once you have healed as much as possible. If the injury tragically causes a worker’s death, there are also death benefits that may be paid to dependents or next of kin.
An experienced occupational disease lawyer can help you fight for the benefits you may, by law, deserve, such as:
- medical care, including medical bills incurred before your occupational disease was acknowledged by insurers
- medical treatment to try to resolve or otherwise minimize the effects of a work-related illness
- wage replacement for days missed from the job, or lost wages if the occupational disease permanently disabled you
You Want a Firm With North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialists
At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we have a dedicated team of workers’ compensation attorneys, including several North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation. These attorneys have focused their practice on helping injured workers through the often complex and confusing workers’ compensation system. For 2023, our firm was selected to the U.S. News “Best Lawyers” list for the 8th straight year, including a Tier 1 ranking (the highest) in the Raleigh metropolitan area for Workers’ Compensation Law.3
Occupational disease claims can be some of the more challenging and complicated workers’ compensation cases. Let an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer represent you and fight for your rights! Call us right now at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online for a free case evaluation by an attorney.
We’re ready to fight for your best interests. We’re ready to tell them you mean business.
3For standards of inclusion, visit bestlawyers.com.