Workers' compensation and occupational diseases

Many Pennsylvania employees are aware that most employers are required to carry workers' compensation insurance, or be self-insured, in order to provide benefits to individuals who have been injured in the workplace. It is, perhaps, less well-known that employers may also pay workers' compensation benefits to individuals who have contracted an occupational disease through exposure to hazardous materials in the workplace.

It is important to distinguish the key difference between workers' compensation and a personal injury claim. The core difference is that workers' compensation is paid regardless of who may be at fault, whereas, a personal injury claim involves a determination of fault. Individuals who accept workers' compensation benefits are not allowed to file a personal injury claim against the employer.

According to the Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act, the definition of occupational disease is confined to exposure to specific compounds or infectious agents. Some examples are exposure to poisonous compounds such as beryllium, manganese, mercury, lead, phosphorus, radium, chromic acid and tuberculosis. However, claimants may be entitled to receive workers' compensation if they are exposed to a disease-causing agent not specified in the act by reason of his or her employment, in particular, those that are specific to the person's occupation or industry. These would include conditions that are not commonplace in the general population but are more common within a particular industry.

An attorney who has experience in workers' compensation cases can evaluate a potential claimant's working conditions and medical history to determine whether he or she may be eligible for benefits. If it appears that workers' compensation is warranted, the attorney can help guide the client through the filing process and, if the claim is denied, handle the appeal.

Source: Pennsylvania department of labor & industry, "Act of 1939, P.L. 566, No. 284 ", October 13, 2014

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