In addition to injuries caused by accidents, does workers comp insurance cover long-term illnesses and diseases?
UPDATED: February 6, 2012
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Your injury does not have to be caused by an accident to be covered by workers compensation. As an employee, you can receive compensation for repetitive stress injuries caused by overuse or misuse over a long period of time. Carpal tunnel syndrome and long-term back pain are more common examples. A worker who has sustained a documented repetitive motion injury is entitled to workers compensation benefits according to the benefit schedules in their state’s workers comp statutes.
A worker can also be compensated for some illnesses and diseases that are the gradual result of work conditions, including heart conditions, lung disease and other diseases caused by chemical or other workplace exposures - as well as stress-related digestive problems.
Proving Your Workers Compensation Claim
While you can be covered for long-term illnesses and diseases through workers compensation, it's important to show that those injuries or illnesses directly resulted from your performance of required work-related duties. This can often be difficult to achieve, especially when the illness develops over a long period of time.
For instance, some illnesses caused by toxic exposures may not develop or become symptomatic until months or even years after the initial exposure. When those illnesses cause multiple health problems, such as cancer or asthma, it can be hard to trace the cause of the illness back to its source injury, i.e. - exposure to chemicals at work.
Repetitive stress injuries, too, can have any number of causes and delayed manifestation – sometimes for years. For instance, if your job involves frequent repetitive lifting with your back, you might believe that the injury was work-related. However, your employer may believe that your injury developed because of your outside activities, such as lifting your kids up all the time, water skiing or gardening.
Gathering Evidence for Your Workers Compensation Claim
There are usually several methods by which you can prove the work-related element of your workers compensation claim. One approach is to try to determine if any other employees who worked with you and who suffered the same work conditions developed similar illnesses. When a number of people within a given industry or location develop the same or similar injuries, this can be a strong indicator that the injuries were work-related.
You can also monitor recalls and changes to the law. For instance, if a pesticide you worked with at work has recently been made illegal because it is known to cause cancer, this can be important evidence that the work-related pesticide exposure caused you harm.
Medical Experts in Workers Compensation Cases
Another option is to find a qualified physician who can help you to document the cause of your injuries. For instance, if you have developed a repetitive stress injury, your doctor may be able to make a medical determination as to whether the injury was caused by repeatedly lifting, typing at work, or something else.
In many cases, it is simply not possible to establish the primary cause of a given medical condition, illness, or injury. In such cases, the issue will likely turn on whether and how much medical evidence you can provide to support your claim. In fact, since many cases that go before workers comp boards often have no relevant medical data attached to them, any medical evidence that you can provide to the cause of your health problems will likely go a long way toward helping to prove your claim.