The uphill battle for disease-related workers’ comp: Part I

Jan 28 2016

In our last post, we wrote that occupational diseases are far more common – and far more deadly – than most people realize. Medical bills and other costs related to these diseases should be covered by workers’ compensation, but that often proves to be a steep, uphill battle for injured workers and their families.

According to an analysis conducted in 2011, for every American who dies from a fatal workplace injury, nine workers die from an occupational disease. Yet injury claims are far more likely to be approved and paid than disease claims are. A 2004 study estimated that “more than 95 percent of ultimately-fatal occupational diseases are never covered by workers’ comp,” according to the Center for Public Integrity.

An article on CPI’s website profiles one case in which a widow ultimately did receive workers’ compensation benefits on behalf of her husband. But the case took eight years, endless amounts of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.

The article profiled a Pennsylvania woman named Sandra Cooper, whose husband Gene came home from work coughing violently on a day in 2003. He was only 48 years old and had previously been in good health. Gene told his wife that he had been instructed to help clean up a spill at the flooring plant where he worked. Sandra never got details about what was spilled.

Gene immediately started to decline, mentally and physically. Within seven months of the spill, he was too disabled to work. Within three years (in 2006), Gene had to be placed in a nursing home, exhibiting symptoms of dementia and Parkinson’s syndrome. He could no longer speak. He passed away in 2014.

It took several years of work for Sandra to even file a workers’ compensation claim. After it was filed, the company fought tooth-and-nail to contest and invalidate the claim. Sandra finally prevailed in 2012, after spending tens of thousands of additional dollars to bring in her own medical experts to testify that her husband’s diseases had been related to chemical exposure at work. She only began receiving any reimbursement for medical costs in August 2015 – three years after the ruling.

Please check back later this week as we continue the discussion. We’ll talk about why workers often face such a difficult battle for workers’ compensation related to occupational illnesses.