An employee is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for disability caused by a condition to which the employment specifically contributed, if the employment exposed the worker to a greater risk of contracting the disease than existed for the public in general.
When we think about occupational diseases, those conditions resulting from cotton dust, coal dust, and asbestos usually come to mind. There are specific statutes dealing with these conditions. These statutes are very complex and will not be dealt with here.
If your loved one has been damaged by exposure to cotton dust, coal dust, or asbestos, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer immediately since, as with all areas of worker’s compensation, there are specific deadlines which must be observed. Otherwise the claim can be lost forever.
North Carolina statutory law contains a catch all provision which includes as an occupational disease “any disease . . .which is proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, but excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside the employment.”
This catch all provision has opened up for possible receipt of benefits all sorts of conditions which were previously not covered by the Workers’ Compensation Law and were therefore not previously payable.
Chief among these new payable conditions are those caused by repetitive motion. One of the most common repetitive motion disease is carpel tunnel syndrome caused by the repetitive typing on a computer keyboard. Many cases have held that a worker may recover full workers’ compensation benefits for carpel tunnel syndrome caused by repetitive motion.
If the worker can prove that: (1) His or her work environment placed him/her at a greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome than exists for members of the public in general; and (2) The work environment was a significant contributing factor to contracting carpal tunnel syndrome, that worker would be entitled to full workers’ compensation benefits.
This catch-all provision makes it possible to recover for any conceivable exposure at the workplace which results in adverse consequences to the employee leading to medical expenses or inability to work.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is an example of a repetitive movement disease. There are many other repetitive movement diseases arising out of the workplace. One specific example handled by the author’s law firm involved a man whose only job was to paste labels on tires. He was required to flip his wrist each time he placed a label on a tire. He placed labels on literally thousands of these tires a day.
Another example which was handled by the author’s law firm involved a man who worked for a meat processing plant. His only job was to use a machete to cut the heads off hog carcasses as they passed through an assembly line. Three or four strokes were required to completely sever the hog’s head. This worker, along with a co-worker who stood opposite him on the assembly line severed several thousand heads a day during the normal work schedule. This man worked the same job for many years, and as a result developed a very serious condition which rendered him totally and permanently disabled. The Industrial Commission held that this was an occupational disease caused by repetitive movements required at his work.
Recently the Industrial Commission and the North Carolina Appellate Courts have held that other activities such as operating heavy equipment may cause repetitive motion conditions which may be payable.
Although there is no statute or case law to support a claim for back injuries as a result of repetitive motions, the author’s law firm has successfully handled several cases for workers who collected full workers’ compensation benefits as a result of repetitive motion resulting in back injury.