Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Claims Due to Occupational Lung Diseases

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Although many South Carolina workers are employed at run-of-the-mill desk jobs where risk of contracting occupational lung diseases is low, a large number of industry workers are still at risk of contracting, and even dying from, these diseases.  Between 1999 and 2013, one study found that asbestos exposure caused over 600 deaths in South Carolina alone.  If you or a loved one has contracted an occupational lung disease due to employment conditions, you may want to consider bringing a workers’ compensation or personal injury claim against the employer.

Examples of Occupational Lung Diseases

Before delving into specifics, it is helpful to list some common examples of common occupational lung diseases:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Silicosis
  • Asbestosis
  • Asthma
  • Mesothelioma
  • Byssinosis
  • Chronic or acute beryllium disease
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Lung cancer

These diseases are due to respiratory injuries, often a result of long-term overexposure to toxic substances, dust, chemicals, or fumes.  Common symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent dry cough, and tightness in the chest.

Workers at High Risk for Contracting Occupational Lung Diseases

Some types of workers in certain South Carolina industries are at a higher risk of exposure to the harmful chemicals, dust, and fumes that may lead to occupational lung diseases. These workers include:

  • Sandblasters
  • Miners
  • Welders (due to exposure to metal coatings)
  • Rock blasters or drillers
  • Textile workers
  • Power plant workers
  • Workers who produce cement, brick, stone, and clay products
  • Workers in the glass, paint manufacturing, or plastics industry
  • Commercial construction workers (particularly those who work with drywall, concrete, insulation, and cement, especially in older buildings)
  • Workers exposed to high levels of diesel fumes
  • Shipyard workers (like the Charleston Naval Shipyard)
  • Workers involved in quarrying
  • Workers at processing plants

These workers often have consistent exposure to potentially lethal substances such as silica (a fine sand dust) or asbestos (a group of fibrous minerals).

Requirements for Bringing Asbestos or Silica Claims

Among the most popular claims for injuries due to occupational diseases are for diseases related to asbestos or silica dust exposure.  South Carolina has passed the Asbestos and Silica Claims Procedure Act of 2006, which provides for prerequisites to filing an asbestos or silica claim.  Specifically, for an asbestos-related cancer claim, a moving party must acquire a medical report from a doctor who is board-certified in pulmonary medicine, internal medicine, oncology, pathology, or occupational medicine.  This report must find that the claimant has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancer such as mesothelioma and must also find to a “reasonable degree of medical certainty” that asbestos exposure was a proximate cause of the diagnosis.  For an asbestos-related claim not alleging cancer, claimants must additionally show 15 years have elapsed since the first date of exposure to asbestos and the date of their diagnosis.
As for silica-related claims, the claimant must again show a report prepared by a board-certified doctor diagnosing the claimant with silica-related claim.  In addition to providing results of a medical examination, chest x-ray, and pulmonary function testing, this report must also provide that the doctor who prepared the report did the following:

  1. Performed a physical examination of the claimant;
  2. Obtained occupational and exposure history from the claimant or, if the claimant is dead, from a person who knows about the alleged exposure; and
  3. Obtain a medical and smoking history that goes through the claimant’s past and present medical problems.

In addition to acquiring medical records, you should also provide timely notice to your employer or supervisor when you start experiencing symptoms related to lung disease.  This allows your employer inform their workers’ compensation insurance company that you will be bringing your claim.
It is critical that you seek legal counsel soon after obtaining these medical records to ensure there is not too long of a gap between the seeking medical treatment and seeking damages for occupational diseases.  You should also bear in mind that it will also be difficult to prevail, particularly on a workers’ compensation claim, if a long time lapses between onset of symptoms related to lung disease and time you seek treatment.

Personal Injury Versus Workers’ Compensation Claims

In addition to bringing a workers’ compensation claim, you may also consider bringing a claim against your employer for negligent working conditions.  The major difference between what is needed to prevail on these different types of claims is whether you need to prove your employer is at fault for your disease.  To prevail under a negligence claim, a claimant needs to prove that the employer’s negligence was a proximate and direct cause of the alleged occupational lung disease.
In contrast, prevailing on a workers’ compensation claim does not require proving fault.  However, the claimant will still need to prove that the disease was sustained in connection to their employment activities (i.e. sandblasting, construction).  It should be noted that a moving party may possibly be able to recover benefits for aggravation to a pre-existing lung disease if he is able to show the aggravation is due to the performance of his job duties.

Damages Recoverable For Occupational Lung Disease Claims

If you successfully bring a workers’ compensation claim under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, you may be entitled to receive reimbursement for weekly compensation, medical bills, vocational rehabilitation, and if applicable, awards for permanent injury.
Alternatively, if you successfully prevail on a personal injury claim under a negligence theory, you may be able to recover past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages due to the disease, out-of-pocket expenses, lost future income or earning potential, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Contact Greenville, South Carolina Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Lawyers Today!

If you believe you contracted an occupational lung disease due to poor employment conditions due to a Greenville employer, you should contact an experienced Greenville workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney to help you initiate and take you through your case.  The experienced Greenville workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at David R. Price Jr., P.A. can help ensure you understand your options for receiving damages and protect your rights throughout the course of litigation. Contact us today for a free consultation!


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