Virginia Workers’ Compensation for Occupational Diseases

Posted on Monday, December 4th, 2017 at 1:14 pm    

Most workers need to show they suffered a specific workplace injury in order to recover workers’ compensation in Virginia. There is an exception for workers who suffer a disease that is due to work. Most occupational diseases occur after months or more normally years of exposure. Many workers may not even know they acquired the disease until decades after the exposure. The delay in seeking treatment for the disease can be problematic for many workers because employers and their insurance companies are likely to initially deny coverage due to the delay and the failure to point to a specific triggering event.

Joe Miller Esq., understands the Virginia occupational illness laws. He fights for workers who suffer these diseases which are often deadly, life-threatening, or disabling. He works with doctors to determine the disease, the cause of the disease, and to show the disease was related to daily work performance. For Virginia worker’s compensation, the last day the employee was exposed is generally considered the formal date of workplace injury.

The Virginia Statutory Definition of Occupational Disease

Here is the state statutory definition of occupational disease. Some exceptions may apply. An experienced Virginia workers’ compensation attorney will know those exceptions.

“Occupational disease” means a disease arising out of and in the course of employment, but not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed outside of the employment.

An occupational disease shall be deemed to arise out of the employment only if there is apparent to the rational mind, upon consideration of all the circumstances:

  • A direct causal connection between the conditions under which work is performed and the occupational disease;
  • It can be seen to have followed as a natural incident of the work as a result of the exposure occasioned by the nature of the employment;
  • It can be fairly traced to the employment as the proximate cause;
  • It is neither a disease to which an employee may have had substantial exposure outside of the employment, nor any condition of the neck, back or spinal column;
  • It is incidental to the character of the business and not independent of the relation of employer and employee; and
  • It had its origin in a risk connected with the employment and flowed from that source as a natural consequence, though it need not have been foreseen or expected before its contraction.

Hearing loss and the condition of carpal tunnel syndrome are not occupational diseases. Virginia law considers them to be ordinary diseases of life. Now that does not mean they are not compensable. It means that workers who are making claims for those types of diseases must meet a higher standard of proof than the clearly defined occupational diseases. That higher standard of proof is called “clear and convincing evidence.”   

Ordinary Diseases

Generally, a worker who gets an ordinary disease does not qualify for workers’ compensation, unless certain elements of proof can connect it to the workplace, as will soon be explained.  A worker who gets an occupational disease does qualify – so it’s crucial to be able to prove that disease is occupational and not ordinary.

But this does not mean that someone who has an ordinary disease is completely out of luck.  It’s just that the standards of proof are harder, namely, that the elements must be proven by “clear and convincing evidence.” That is a much higher standard of proof than an occupational disease.

Some ordinary diseases may qualify as occupational disease, if the following conditions are clearly met:

1. If the disease can be shown to have arisen out of and in the course of employment and not due to outside causes and if one of the following exists:

a. It follows as an incident of occupational disease as defined in this title; or

b. It is an infectious or contagious disease contracted in the course of one’s employment in a hospital or sanitarium or laboratory or nursing home, or while otherwise engaged in the direct delivery of health care, or in the course of employment as emergency rescue personnel and those volunteer emergency rescue personnel. Essentially, this means people who normally provide some type of healthcare service such as nurses and ER staff and who acquire a disease may qualify for workers’ compensation, or

c. It is characteristic of the employment and was caused by conditions peculiar to such employment.

Common Types of Occupational Diseases
Many of the people who suffer an occupational disease suffer exposure to toxic chemicals. Some of the diseases associated with hazardous chemical exposure are:

  • Diseases of the lung. Bronchitis, industrial asthma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and interstitial fibrosis;
  • Nerve diseases. Chronic encephalopathy and peripheral polyneuropathy;
  • Tuberculosis, hepatitis, Lyme disease, possibly HIV, cancer of the bladder or liver, heart disease.

Mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that comes from exposure to asbestos, is another common occupational work disease.  Also, many coal miners suffer from black lung disease.

Repetitive Motion Injuries and Emotional Stress Injuries

There are some occupational illnesses that are not due to exposure – rather they are due to repetitive stress. Workers who do a lot of computer work or repeat work such as assembly work in factories can develop carpel tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries. Repetitive stress injuries are also called repeated motion injuries. The most common type of repetitive stress injury affects the wrists. If detected in time; rest, rehab, and some medications can help. If not detected in time, repetitive stress injuries can become a lifelong disability. Virginia workers’ compensation law does not recognize repetitive stress injuries as occupational diseases but they are considered “ordinary diseases of life” and would therefore have to conform to the higher standards of “clear and convincing evidence” in order to be found compensable.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is probably the most frequently claimed ordinary disease of life that is found to be compensable.

 

Other Ordinary Diseases that might be covered.

Conditions that are related to emotional stress such as being continually exposed to traumatic events and suffering from PTSD would not be occupational diseases, but ordinary diseases of life. There have been cases where paramedics and firemen have recovered for that condition due to repeated exposure to traumatic events, as they were able to show it was work-related by clear and convincing evidence.

Other ordinary diseases and conditions such as MRSA infection, tendinitis, HIV, Deep Vein Thrombosis, Frostbite, and Lyme disease have been shown to be compensable in specific cases.

An experienced Virginia workers’ compensation attorney such as Joe Miller can explain when emotional stress related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, are covered.

Talk to a Virginia Occupational Disease Attorney Now
Virginia work injury lawyer Joe Miller understands workers’ compensation work injury law. He has been helping injured Virginia workers for over quarter of a century. He understands what workers need to prove to qualify for occupational disease benefits. For help now, call Joe Miller at (888) 694-1671 or fill out his online contact form.