Some diseases result directly from an accident at work. While these diseases are unusual, they do occur with enough frequency to warrant discussion here as a resource to workers in North Carolina.
Diseases which are not inherent in, or incident to the nature of the employment, but which result from an accident arising out of and in the course of employment are fully payable under North Carolina workers' compensation. Here are seven different workers who developed diseases and made workers' comp claims:
- One example is a case of a man who had been in good health until he fell from a platform and broke his leg. After the fall, he lay where he fell for an hour and a half. During this time he was exposed to cold temperatures outside. After he was found he was taken to the office where he waited two hours for medical attention. Due to the exposure to the elements and the long wait, the man developed an acute kidney infection. This ultimately resulted in his death. The court determined this evidence was sufficient to support an award of full compensation death benefits to surviving family members. This is true even though the broken leg, by itself, would not have killed him.
- Another worker injured in a fall developed myelitis, an inflammatory disease of the spinal cord which can cause fever, muscle stiffness, pain, weakness, and even paralysis. The court held that the employer was liable for the myelitis.
- When a worker injured his eye and later contracted a serious eye infection, the court held that the infection was related to the accident which injured the eye, and was therefore payable.
- Ordinarily heart disease is not an injury and is not payable under the workers’ compensation law. (This also relates to a hot topic: Obesity-related injuries due to work environment.) However, when a policeman suffered a fatal heart attack some ten months after subduing a violent person. The assailant resisted arrest and the officer was required to carry the assailant up three flights of stairs. The court ruled that the policeman’s death resulted not from inherent weakness or disease of the heart, but from an unusual and unexpected happening, and that therefore the death resulted from an accident and was payable.
- On the other hand, in another case, the court denied recovery for a worker who suffered a coronary occlusion while rolling a heavy rope net in the course of his employment. In that case, a medical doctor testified that the exercise could not be the cause of the condition, although the coronary occlusion might have been accelerated or precipitated by the exertion.
- When a worker was struck in the back of the head while at work and later developed an infection in his brain which caused total disability, the court upheld a ruling by the Industrial Commission that his death was caused by an accident arising out of and in the course and scope of his employment.
- Benefits were denied for the death of a worker who died from pneumonia. The evidence in that case was that the employee got wet washing machines, and thereafter went outside and worked in the sunshine and open air. The sudden change in temperature caused him to contract pneumonia from which he died.
These cases indicate again how inconsistently the court rules on these cases and how difficult it is to predict whether workers’ compensation benefits will be payable. This underscores the need for an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help the worker win these cases.