This article explains:
- What compensation looks like for occupational diseases and injuries.
- What diseases and injuries caused by your work can be compensated in the state of Florida.
- The difficulties and requirements when seeking compensation for occupational injuries or diseases in Florida.
What Does Compensation For Occupational Injuries And Diseases Mean?
If you have come down with a disease or been the victim of an injury contracted or caused at your workplace, you are eligible for financial compensation.
Compensation for occupational injuries and diseases is paid by the employer (or their insurance) for medical care as well as for missed time from work. The sum of the financial benefits depends on the severity of the impairment or disability, such as:
- Temporary partial disability
- Temporary total disability
- Permanent total disability
What Is An Occupational Exposure Claim?
An occupational exposure claim is a claim for compensation for a disease or injury that was not necessarily caused by one moment or source of trauma.
For example, if your hand were punctured by a nail, you would not need an occupational exposure claim. However, if you were exposed to a dangerous substance that caused an adverse reaction, whether during a single exposure or over multiple cumulative exposures, then you would likely have an occupational exposure claim.
What Are Examples Of Occupational Diseases?
Occupational diseases are diseases caused by exposure to substances or situations in the workplace. These can include a vast variety of pathologies ranging from skin problems from dermatological exposure, breathing problems, or lung diseases from pulmonary exposure to cumulative toxicity in the bloodstream from chemical exposure or use.
There are a depressingly endless number of possible diseases and symptoms that can be caused by dangers at the workplace. Almost any interaction with potent chemicals or particulate matter in the workplace can trigger physiological responses.
How Soon Should Occupational Diseases Be Reported?
In Florida, the law requires that occupational diseases be reported within 90 days of the disabling condition.
However, it is heavily recommended that you report suspected occupational illnesses or diseases as promptly as possible. This is in part to get the prompt remedy that the system is supposed to provide to employees who are subject to occupational illnesses and diseases, but also to help ensure the problem or source is removed and does not cause any more harm.
How Do You Determine When An Occupational Disease Or Injury Occurred Or Started?
Determining the beginning of an occupational illness or disease is often one of the most difficult aspects of occupational compensation cases. Most employees do not realize that they are potentially being exposed to harmful substances or situations until the disease manifests and results in a disability.
Additionally, the law in Florida considers that the date of an occupational disease culminates when the disability occurs, not necessarily when the exposure occurs. Thus, these cases very commonly require detailed expert analysis to go back and analyze the circumstances and particular instances of exposure over time in the workplace. These experts have to figure out whether the time and dose of exposure to certain chemicals or other pollutants in the workplace could have caused the adverse reaction.
Ideally, such exposure should be determined from real-time monitoring. The clearest example would be an employee who works around radiation and regularly wears a dosimeter, which would show exactly what levels they had been exposed to and for how long.
Unfortunately, in the real world, few employees can demonstrate with certainty the totality of past exposures. Thus, it takes an expert to help retroactively determine what the likely exposures were over what periods.
How Do You Prove An Occupational Disease Was Caused By A Workplace Environment?
Determining with reasonable certainty that your occupational disease was caused by workplace exposure is a crucial step toward receiving full compensation.
The typical approach used by doctors and experts is to look at every relevant circumstance and perform a differential diagnosis analysis. In that process, healthcare providers and experts look at all of the risk factors to which you have been involved both on and off the job and try to make a clinical determination about whether your disease is likely the result of occupational exposure or not.
Unfortunately, this is hardly an exact science and one which has been further complicated by the 2019 implementation of the Daubert Standard for expert evidence finding its way into the Florida evidence code. Now there is a steep challenge to be met about who can and cannot make those determinations and whether or not those determinations can be made soundly based on a scientific criterion.
What Compensation Is Available For Workers Suffering From An Occupational Disease Or Injury?
Compensation is designed to help those who have suffered either time away from work, a permanent disability, or an inability to work as before. Thus, financial compensation can include payments from missed work time in the form of temporary partial disability, as well as temporary total disability or permanent total disability in more extreme cases.
In addition, if employees wind up with a permanent impairment related to an occupational disease, they are entitled to another class of benefits called impairment income benefits.
Finally, in some circumstances, if the condition prevents you from returning to work and making at least 80% of what you earned before the injury or disease, then you might be entitled to retraining where the state pays for ongoing retraining or schooling. Additionally, under retraining, the employer’s insurance can be responsible for up to another year of temporary benefits during the time you are enrolled in a retraining or reeducation program.
How Often Are Occupational Diseases Workers’ Compensation Claims Denied?
Unfortunately, denials of workers’ compensation claims for occupational diseases are distressingly common under Florida law.
This is in part because the law requires that an employee proves the disease to be caused by the workplace with clear and convincing evidence. This is a substantially higher standard than for ‘normal’ physical trauma which simply requires the employee to show that the major contributing cause of the need for treatment is a workplace injury.
What Are The Most Common Reasons Occupational Disease Claims Are Denied?
Insurance companies will work hard to avoid paying out the compensation you deserve. They will claim that you cannot demonstrate with “clear and convincing evidence based on reliable scientific data” that your exposure or exposures in the workplace ultimately led to the specific diagnosed problem or disability and use that to avoid paying some or all of the compensation you are owed.
How Do I Appeal A Denial For My Worker’s Comp Claim For An Occupational Disease?
In Florida, it is required that you, as the employee, must confer in good faith with the carrier (the insurance) to see if the denial can be resolved with an agreement. If after conferring in good faith you cannot agree on how to resolve the claim, you are then burdened with filing a formal petition for benefits with the judge of compensation claims.
Ultimately, it will be that judge who determines whether or not the alleged illness or injury qualifies as an occupational disease under Florida statute Chapter 440, and whether you will thus receive compensation for it.
Do I Need An Attorney Who Has Specific Experience With Work-Related Occupational Disease Cases?
Given the complex nature of occupational disease claims and the importance of receiving compensation, there is no doubt that hiring an expert is a good idea.
Having an attorney who is experienced with litigating occupational illness cases, particularly in light of Daubert Standard challenges, could be crucial to getting the compensation you deserve. Having a workers’ compensation lawyer with experience and knowledge about the specific subject matter as well as the medical and scientific burdens the law requires might just be the key factor that swings a case in your favor.
For more information on Compensation For Occupational Injuries & Diseases, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (386) 388-6260 today.