Many workers suffer diseases while working at their jobs in North Carolina. Workers who meet the criteria for filing a workers’ compensation claim based on an occupational disease are entitled to benefits. The benefits are similar to the benefits workers can claim for being injured at work. This means workers in North Carolina who qualify can demand that their employer or employer’s insurance company pay for all the worker’s reasonable medical bills. Workers are also entitled to temporary and permanent disability benefits generally in the same amount as workers who are injured can claim.
What are the requirements for filing a workers’ compensation claim in North Carolina based on an occupational disease?
Unlike an accident, which is sudden and occurs at a specific place and time, occupational diseases manifest over a time, sometimes even over decades. Workers must show that their disease arose out of and during the courses of their job. The disease cannot be one that the general public might contract outside of any workplace environment and to which the public is equally exposed.
If, on the other hand, one can show that the job caused excessive exposure to the ordinary disease far beyond that of the general public, it is possible that one could obtain occupational disease coverage for that disease.
But outside of that, a worker seeking to prove an occupational disease needs to show that:
- There is a direct connection between the workplace conditions and the occupational disease.
- The disease is a natural result of workplace exposures.
Occupational illnesses include diseases that are a result of known risks, infections, or contagious diseases contracted in the course of work. There are other factors that our experienced North Carolina occupational illness attorney will explain.
The compensability of occupational diseases in North Carolina
Section 97-53 of the North Carolina General Statutes sets forth the occupational diseases that are covered in North Carolina. The law in NCGS 97-52 provides that an occupational disease that is specifically listed in 97-53 that results in a disability or death “will be treated as the happening of an injury by accident within the meaning of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. The North Carolina workers’ compensation procedures and practices for occupational diseases will be treated as those procedures and practices are treated for accidents.” Which essentially means it will be much easier to prove that those specific diseases were caused by work exposure than ones that are not specifically listed.
Occupational diseases due to exposure to chemicals
At the end of Section 97-53 it states that “Occupational diseases caused by chemicals shall be deemed to be due to exposure of an employee to the chemicals herein mentioned only when as a part of the employment such employee is exposed to such chemicals in such form and quantity and used with such frequency as to cause the occupational disease mentioned in connection with such chemicals.”
In other words, if a one-time or short exposure to a chemical is deemed by qualified experts insufficient to cause the disease you are claiming, the claim may fail.
North Carolina considers the following conditions and diseases to be occupational diseases according to Section 97-53:
- Arsenic poisoning.
- Brass poisoning.
- Zinc poisoning.
- Manganese poisoning.
- Lead poisoning – subject to specific conditions.
- Mercury poisoning.
- Phosphorus poisoning.
- (9) 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).
- (13) 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.
- Epitheliomatous cancer or ulceration of the skin or of the corneal surface of the eve 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 – [subject to certain conditions].
- 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.
Please note the section labeled #9. “Volatile Halogenated Hydrocarbons” include such chemicals as trichloroethane and trichloroethylene (TCE), prolonged exposure to which, without appropriate respiratory protective gear, has been shown to cause severe brain damage and even death in sufficient exposures over time. Despite their danger, some of these types of chemicals are still in use in some places to perform such tasks such as cleaning engine or other machine parts.
Note the section I numbered above as #13. This is the section which sets forth the standard for proving that an “ordinary disease of life” was contracted at work and should be treated as an occupational disease.
Occupational Hearing Loss in North Carolina
As to hearing loss, there are specific rules for when loss of hearing caused by harmful noise in employment over time is compensable – based on sound levels and other factors. Note that this is different from claiming a hearing loss from an exposure to a traumatic incident or extremely loud noise at a specific moment in time. That would be compensable as to any other injury or accident and also is a ratable injury as to each ear pursuant to N.C.G.S. 97-31 (18).
But as to a claim for hearing loss based on occupational disease, unlike accidental or traumatic hearing loss, where loss in only one ear can be claimed, the hearing loss must affect BOTH EARS in an occupational disease claim in North Carolina to be compensable. The requirements relating to hearing loss are contained in subdivision 28 of the occupational disease statute, namely N.C.G.S. section 97-53:
“‘Occupational loss of hearing'” shall mean a permanent sensorineural loss of hearing in both ears caused by prolonged exposure to harmful noise in employment. Except in instances of preexisting loss of hearing due to disease, trauma, or congenital deafness in one ear no compensation shall be payable under this subdivision unless prolonged exposure to harmful noise in employment has caused loss of hearing in both ears as hereinafter provided.”
“No compensation benefits shall be payable for temporary total or temporary partial disability under this subdivision and there shall be no award for tinnitus or a psychogenic hearing loss.”
The extent (how much is paid and for how long) of an employer’s liability also depends on many complicated factors enumerated in section 28 (g)which our seasoned North Carolina work injury lawyer can explain.
We discuss some of the most common types of occupational injury claims for ill workers in North Carolina in part two of our discussion.
At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer has been fighting for injuries and ill workers for more than 30 years. We work with medical professionals who can diagnose, treat, and provide a diagnosis for many different types of occupational illnesses. We’ve helped thousands of North Carolina employees receive full compensation for their medical expenses and their full legal share of lost income for temporary and permanent disabilities. To assert your workers’ compensation rights, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295 or fill out my online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
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