After spending decades working with toxic chemicals in what was deemed by your employer a “safe environment,” you now find that you’ll be spending your golden years enduring rounds of chemotherapy for a cancer you may or may not have picked up at work. What’s your legal recourse? Read on to find out what law experts had to say on the matter.
Randolph Rice, the founding partner of Rice, Murtha & Psoras, serves injury victims in the State of Maryland every day. His commentary has been featured by The Washington Post, Readers Digest, Inc. Magazine, BBC, and more. Find him at Rice, Murtha & Psoras.
Yes, Through Workers’ Compensation and Other Remedies
Holding an employer responsible for an illness you acquired at work can be challenging, but it is completely possible. Laws in most states allow workers to file through workers’ compensation for both injuries and illnesses acquired at work. The injury or illness needs to be tied to the actual conditions at your workplace or tasks performed during the scope of your job in order to qualify for benefits. Workers’ compensation usually pays for replacement wages and medical care, but not pain and suffering.
In many states, workers’ compensation is the “sole remedy” for injured and ill workers, and they have limitations on their ability to sue. If that is not the case or the state has exceptions or opt-out periods, you can usually sue instead. To sue an employer for an illness acquired at work, you need to prove they committed negligence that led to the injury or illness. Negligence could involve failing to check for dangerous materials like asbestos in an old building before sending in a renovation team, failing to provide respirators to workers who deal with harsh chemicals or silica, or failing to provide other warnings and safety gear to at-risk workers. Lawsuits could involve claims for pain and suffering that would otherwise be blocked through workers’ comp.
Diseases like cancer, asbestosis, and silicosis are often tied to unsafe workplace conditions, and many people file claims and lawsuits for these kinds of illnesses every year.
If You Followed All the Safety Protocols, Yes.
Your employer may be forced to be legally accountable for a debilitating disease in some circumstances. Before you get started with a lawsuit, though, it’s essential to realize that there will be resistance, and your employer will get a good attorney.
If there’s a way out of legal responsibility, they will find it.
If the employer-provided safety measures and materials and protocol weren’t followed, they might not be liable for any diseases you acquire. For example, if you developed silicosis after years of working in the countertop industry, you may think your employer should be responsible for the irreversible damage to your lungs.
However, if they provided PPE that was designed to adequately protect you from inhaling silica particles, but you didn’t wear it, they will likely be able to avoid any liability.
You would have a good case, though, if you followed all the protocols every time.
If your employer took adequate steps to ensure safety, received no OSHA violations, and acted in good faith, your case will be more challenging to prove. If they provided a hazardous working environment and have a history of safety violations, your lawsuit will be stronger.
Melanie Musson is an HR expert who gives legal advice at FreeAdvice.com.
Short Answer, Yes
Questions in law are never straightforward. I will say, it is definitely possible to hold an employer responsible for a debilitating disease. With employee injury/sickness suits, the whole purpose of the lawsuit is to determine responsibility. If an employer knowingly or chose to be ignorant to the possible dangers they were putting their employees in, they could be held fiscally responsible for the damages of working there.
Employers assume responsibility for the health and wellness of their staff when they choose to run a business and hire a business. If they did not take the appropriate actions to ensure that they were providing a safe workplace for their employees, then they are held accountable for not meeting their responsibilities.
Yes, But Difficult to Sue Outside of Workers’ Compensation
In most states, you can only receive workers’ compensation benefits by catching a disease tied to the workplace. There may be a third-party case against someone other than your employer, such as an asbestos manufacturer, but your recovery against the employer is limited to workers’ compensation.
Furthermore, proving causation between the workplace and the disease can be very difficult. The level of proof required varies from state to state and typically relies on medical testimony to establish the link between the job and the disease.
Micheal McCready is the Managing Partner of McCready Law. He has been practicing law since 1992 and opened his own law firm in Chicago, Ill., in 2000.
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