If you’ve suffered a medical condition as a consequence of your employment, it’s possible you could be entitled to a personal injury settlement. Occupational diseases are any chronic ailment that occurs as a result of work activities.
What are occupational diseases?
Occupational diseases are those associated with specific types of work. This means a continuing condition, different from safety hazards such as falls or burns. Occupational diseases commonly recognized today include:
- Lung disease from asbestos, coal dust, silicon, and types of insulation.
- Asthma or respiratory ailments from exposure to chemicals, smoke or fumes, and poor air quality,
- Skin diseases like eczema or skin cancer caused by exposure to chemical or organic substances, or excessive sunlight or moisture.
- Contact dermatitis, or damage to the skin from irritants such as detergents, oils, solvents, salts, etc..
- Hand uticaria, a reaction caused by constant use of rubber or latex gloves.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome, or other repetitive stress injuries due to the same repeated motions.
- Lead or mercury poisoning due to exposure to these metals in either solid or vapor forms.
- Hearing loss due to exposure to excessive noise.
- Computer vision syndrome, or damage to eyesight due to long periods staring at a computer screen.
Workers’ compensation laws in many jurisdictions rely on the presumption that a specific condition was caused by a person’s work environment, and they may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses or income loss. The burden is then on the employer to show that the disease had a non-work-related origin. In certain localities some diseases or illnesses may be non-compensable, but nationally recognized occupational diseases may entitle the sufferer to monetary damages.
If you’ve been diagnosed with one or more of these conditions, you may want to consult a lawyer about filing a lawsuit. While steps may vary by jurisdiction, your case will likely progress in a manner similar to that outlined below.
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Your attorney will review the facts and decide whether your case is legitimate and worth pursuing. If so, they will make every effort to gather information such as work and healthcare treatment documents and details, seek potential witnesses, and weigh the monetary factors.
A complaint or petition is then filed with the court. This lists all involved parties, the legal reasons giving the court jurisdiction, and pertinent claims, facts, and details regarding the case. It also states what is expected from the defendant in pursuing the matter. On approval a summons is issued to the defendant (employer), who may seek to have the case dismissed, or file a counterclaim. Third parties may also become involved where they have interest in the case.
Fact-finding or Discovery phase
All the information presented in the case is verified, and any hidden factors identified. This is done through producing documentation, including sworn statements (depositions) by witnesses or parties involved.
Two types of motion can be requested. Nondispositive motions depend on questions arising from the case and evidence, while dispositive motions for resolution of the case are of the following types:
- Motion to Dismiss – This may be filed after the discovery phase on behalf of the defendant if they have grounds for claiming that the court is not fit to give a ruling on such a case, has no jurisdiction over the defendant, a failure in the legal process of complaint and summons, or a lack of proof in the employer’s responsibility.
- Summary Judgement – if the facts given are not disputed, the court may rule to avoid going to trial.
- Default Judgement – if the defendant fails to respond to the summons, the court may aware the decision to the plaintiff.
- SuaSponte Dismissal – the court may dismiss the lawsuit if mistakes have been made in presenting the case.
- Settlement – lawsuits are frequently resolved by negotiating compensation in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.
If no settlement is reached, the lawsuit will go to trial. This includes opening statements, testimony, and cross-examination of witnesses. After all evidence is presented, closing statements are delivered by both sides and the case goes to the jury for deliberation. Many states will require a unanimous decision before reaching a verdict.
The party judged at fault may be required to pay damages. If they refuse or are unable to pay, a post-judgement discovery may take place to seek options in the collection process.
The losing party may also request an appeal of the case in effort to overturn the judgement if it’s felt that legal errors or oversights occurred.
Occupational disease can become a life-changing disability. If you feel your health and finances have been damaged as a result of your working conditions, it would be prudent to seek the advice of an experienced attorney as soon as possible.