What Is An Occupational Disease in Workers' Compensation?

Research on a White LaptopAccording to the North Carolina General Statutes, occupational diseases covered by workers’ compensation are diseases caused by conditions that are characteristic with a particular trade or occupation, but excluding ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment.  For example, if a worker, whose job was a paint sprayer for many years, has lung damage due to him breathing a specific chemical in the paint, he would probably have an occupational disease.  However, an office worker who happens to develop a lung disease that is common to the everyday public would probably not have a compensable occupational disease under workers’ compensation.

The list of occupational diseases is listed in North Carolina General Statute 97-53. There are presently twenty eight specific diseases listed in this section. Common examples of potential occupational diseases include, but are not limited to, mercury poisoning, asbestosis, anthrax, arsenic poisoning, and silicosis.

Even if you do not have one of the enumerated diseases under this section of the law there is a “catch all” provision of occupational diseases under section 13 of N.C.G.S. 97-53. This section says an occupational disease may also be, “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.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled in order for a worker to prove the elements of an occupational disease the worker must prove:

1)    the employee was exposed to a hazardous substance in the employment,

2)    the employee developed a disease,

3)    the occupation exposed the employee to a greater risk of developing the disease compared to the general public,

4)    the exposure to the substance was a substantial factor in the employee developing the disease, and

5)    the occupational disease caused injury or death.

An occupational disease claim must be filed within two years of the diagnosis by a physician.

In conclusion, a normal workers compensation claim injury is usually a fixed specific time in which the injury occurred.  In contrast, an occupational disease may develop over several years and still be considered compensable.

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