Most people recognize that if they have an accident on the job in which they suffer an injury, they are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. However, many people do not realize that if their job exposes them to risks of injury that don’t occur in a specific accident, they still may recover benefits under Illinois law.
In some instances, if a worker suffers an injury that is not traceable to a specific accident at work but is due to repetitive motions or overuse of a body part, they are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Under Illinois law, if work activities cause or contribute to an injury, a worker may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Many construction workers use vibrating power tools that after day in and day out use can cause injuries such as carpal tunnel disease, cubital tunnel disease or other types of nerve injuries. Often times a worker notices symptoms such as tingling and numbness in the arm or hand even when not working. As long as the worker’s injury can be traced back to his employment, he will have a valid claim under the Workers Compensation Act. Likewise, tendonitis or similar injuries that appear in other contexts, such as clerical workers who spend a vast majority of the day typing, also may have a right to compensation for their injuries. This is the type of claim that is often overlooked because it did not occur in an industrial setting.
A companion law to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act is the Occupational Disease Act. The benefits under the Occupational Disease Act are similar to those under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Occupational disease claims may arise when a worker is exposed to chemicals, pollutants or other types of contaminates that result in a disease.
In order to establish an occupational disease claim a worker must prove they suffered from a disease that has been caused or aggravated as a result of exposure in the employment.
Many occupational disease claims have arisen from hardwood floor refinishers who develop lung problems that are either aggravated or caused by the polyurethane chemicals that are used in their employment. Similarly, workers who are exposed to diesel exhaust fumes that develop lung disease or workers that are exposed to long term noise exposure that results in partial or total hearing loss have valid occupational disease claims. Also, workers exposed to asbestos or silica dust have both claims against their employer and, potentially, claims against the third-party who manufactured the product which caused their injury.
Recently, our office has been contacted by several former and current union welders who have developed a permanent neurological injury which produces Parkinson-like symptoms. Several studies, including one from the MAYO clinic, have demonstrated a higher risk of this injury after prolonged exposure to fumes from welding using rods containing manganese. Because of the nature of the injury, we have been able to pursue both occupational disease claims on behalf of these clients, as well as products liability claims against the manufacturers of the welding rods, usually based on defective warnings.
These cases have been hotly contested, but both the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which regulates both workers’ compensation and occupational disease claims, and the Illinois Appellate Court have recognized the validity of these claims.
Generally, occupational disease claims do not result from a specific accident or incident on a certain day but rather result from everyday work that involves exposure to some sort of material. As a result, an injured employee may not be aware of their injury, and might not learn about it until months or even years after their employment has ended. Once an employee knows of his injury he must provide prompt notice to his employer. If he fails to do so, his action may be barred.
Repetitive trauma and occupational disease claims provide another example of compensation that is often overlooked by injured employees. As a result, it is important to contact an attorney if you have any reason to believe that an injury or disease may have been caused as a result of your employment.