The conditions of silicosis and asbestosis are both occupational diseases, but they are treated differently under North Carolina workers' compensation law.
Silicosis is defined as the characteristic fibrotic condition of the lungs caused by breathing in dust of silica or silicates. Industries in which workers may be exposed to silica dust include brick making, or any industry in which sand and gravel are handled frequently.
Asbestosis is defined as the characteristic fibrotic condition of the lungs caused by the inhalation of asbestos dust. Asbestos was widely used years ago. Although it is no longer in use, many buildings still contain asbestos and workers continue to be exposed. Asbestosis has an extremely long latency period, which means that a worker who is exposed to asbestos 20 or 30 years ago may not yet exhibit the signs and symptoms of asbestosis.
Both silicosis and asbestosis are extremely serious occupational diseases, for which there is no cure, and which eventually completely disables the victim.
The North Carolina General Assembly has enacted special rules which apply only to the victims of silicosis and asbestosis.
It provides that if the worker has been exposed to asbestos or silicosis for as much as 30 working days, or parts thereof, within seven consecutive calendar months, such exposure shall be deemed injurious. This means that the worker does not have to establish that the conditions of his or her employment with the defendant caused or significantly contributed to his disease. In this case, the worker need only show that:
- They have the occupational disease
- They were last injuriously exposed to the hazards of such disease in the defendant's employment
When the North Carolina Industrial Commission is advised by an employer or employee that the employee has asbestosis or silicosis, the Industrial Commission will order the employee to submit to X-rays and a physical examination by a special advisory committee set up by the Industrial Commission.
If the first examination reveals that the worker has asbestosis or silicosis, the Industrial Commission shall order that the employee be removed from any occupation which exposes him or her to the hazards of asbestosis or silicosis. The worker will also be entitled to collect compensation benefits at the rate of 2/3 of the worker's average weekly wage for a period of 104 weeks. The worker is entitled to at least 104 weeks of benefits even if they remain able to work. This rule was enacted to encourage the employee to change occupations and remove themselves from harmful exposure. As of this writing, it is unnecessary to show disability in order to receive the initial 104 weeks of compensation if asbestosis or silicosis is diagnosed.
After the first examination, the employee must submit to a second and third examination to determine if there is disability resulting from the exposure to asbestosis or silicosis.
- If the employee becomes totally disabled, he or she will be entitled to lifetime benefits.
- If the incapacity to work is only partial, the employer shall pay to the employee 2/3 of the difference between the pre-disability income and the income earned after the partial disability. These benefits will only be paid, however, for an additional 196 weeks after the initial 104 weeks of full workers' compensation benefits.
- Should death result from the asbestosis or silicosis within 350 weeks from the date of the last exposure and while the employee is entitled to compensation for disablement, either partial or total, the family of the deceased worker would be entitled to full death benefits.
- If the worker has asbestosis or silicosis and dies from any other cause, the family of the deceased worker will be entitled to certain benefits as a result of having contracted the asbestosis or silicosis.
- If tuberculosis develops and complicates disability due to silicosis and/or asbestosis, compensation will be reduced by 1/6.
As you can see in the short details above, claims resulting from exposure to asbestos and silicosis are complex. A workers' compensation attorney should be consulted if you feel you have a claim arising from such exposure. Contact us for a free case evaluation.