Copyright 2011, Joseph A. Miller
Normally, in order to recover for an injury at work under North Carolina Workers Compensation Law , you must have suffered a specific “accident" in the course of your employment. That means basically that something unusual must have occurred at a specific point in time such as a slip, trip or fall which caused you to get hurt at work.
But even if you did not suffer a specific injury on a specific day, or an "accident" on your job, you may have another means of recovery under the Act.
Let's assume you have begun to suffer from very severe pain in your wrists, and you are an electrician. Or another example--perhaps you are a private jail security guard and you have seen one too many horrific situations. Now a psychiatrist says you have Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD).
Under NC Law, if your doctor can also give an opinion that your symptoms came about as a result of years of you engaging in the specific things you did on your job, then you may be suffering from an occupational disease, which is compensable under the Act.
Of course, whether you have an occupational disease depends on a variety of factors, including your specific injury, your past work and medical history, and what your treating doctor is able to say.
N.C.G.S. 97-53 provides a list of various diseases and conditions which are compensable as occupational diseases under the Worker's Compensation Act.
Most of these various diseases involve exposure to specific substances in the workplace, such as arsenic, zinc, manganese, lead, and mercury; however, NCGS 97-53 (13) states that occupational disease also includes any disease 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 employment."
In plain terms, what this means is that if your doctor can state that there is something particular about your job, such as a specific type of repetitive motion, that caused your condition, and your job placed you at increased risk for the injury, you will likely have a compensable occupational disease claim.
If, on the other hand, the doctor states that you were merely suffering from an ordinary disease of life, meaning something to which the general public is equally exposed, then you will likely not prevail on your occupational disease claim.
This type of claim often comes up with respect to carpal tunnel syndrome, in jobs such as electricians, typists, construction workers, etc., where there is frequent, daily, repetitive use of the hands and wrists over many years. Your doctor must be able to give an opinion that connects the repetitive motion of the wrist or arm required for the job to the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome in order to prevail on such an occupational disease claim.
In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome, occupational diseases have been found to be compensable in cases of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), side effects of a vaccine, and even job stress to name a few.
The most important thing in such claims is to make sure that the treating doctor and your attorney have a very thorough history of the precise duties in your job which you believe may have caused your occupational disease, as well as your entire work history and medical history throughout your entire life. That is important because it is crucial for your attorney and your doctor to rule out other potential causes of your occupational disease outside of your job.
If some other cause outside of your job is just as likely to have caused your problem, then you will not have a case.
The best advice is to contact a knowledgeable NC Workers Compensation Attorney to see if you may have a claim. Our office maintains specific questionnaires designed to get to the bottom of whether you may have a viable occupational disease claim.
Please call or email us at [email protected] .