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Occupational Disease

If you work in Alabama, you are not only entitled to workers’ compensation benefits when you suffer a work injury, you also may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if you suffer a job illness which leads to a permanent loss–this is called an Occupational Disease.

An occupational disease differs from a typical situation where a worker suffers an acute work injury after a fall or while lifting a heavy object. In those cases, it is often fairly easy to relate the work injury to the work related activity; not so with occupational diseases.

Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act defines an occupational disease as follows: A disease arising out of and in the course of employment including occupational pneumoconiosis and occupational exposure to radiation as defined…in this section, which is due to hazards in excess of those ordinarily incident to employment in general and is peculiar to the occupation in which the employee is engaged but without regard to negligence, or fault, if any, of the employer. A disease, including, but not limited to, loss of hearing due to noise, shall be deemed an occupational disease only if caused by a hazard recognized as peculiar to a particular trade, process, occupation, or employment as a direct result of exposure, over a period of time, to normal working condition of the trade, process, occupation, or employment.

To most people who do not handle work injury cases in Alabama for a living, this definition is a clear as mud. Suffice it to say, no disease is precluded from being defined as an occupational disease. Asthma, COPD, pneumoconiosis, cancer, hearing loss, emphysema, mesothelioma and other illness can qualify for an occupational disease, therefore entitling you to workers’ compensation benefits in Alabama IF the disease (i) is not merely temporary in nature, (ii) was caused (or a pre existing condition was worsened) by you job duties IF your job duties exposed you to hazards which are (a) in excess of those ordinarily incident to employment in general and (b) are different in character from those found in general occupations.

First, you should note that our courts have stated that a disease means more than a temporary disorder; rather, it denotes a serious disorder which has chronically impaired the worker. A temporary aggravation of your asthma or a ringing in your ears which goes away in time will not be considered a compensable occupational disease. Only when your job illness is a serious, chronic problem will a claim for workers’ compensation benefits for an occupational disease be a possibility.

In order to have a compensable claim for Alabama workers’ compensation benefits due to an occupational disease, you have to able to prove that your job illness was caused (or a preexisting condition was worsened) by you job duties. Some conditions, such as black lung or mesothelioma are more naturally related to one’s job duties. Unfortunately, it is not atypical for a person working in a coal mine or around asbestoses to suffer from serious lung disorders, and showing the relationship between their job duties and their job illness is generally not as difficult as it is to show that your COPD or heart disease or hearing loss or cancer is related to your particular occupation. That is because working in a mine or other similar job inherently exposes the worker to a hazard that the general working force is not exposed to. For other serious, chronic illnesses, the worker must be able to: (1) point out the hazardous condition you were exposed to; (2) show that you were exposed to said hazard over a period of time; (3) show that the hazard you were exposed to was in excess to similar hazards the general work populace is exposed to and (4) show that your exposure was sufficient to show that the work hazard caused or contributed to your illness/disease.

In some of our previous blogs were have tried to explain the legal concept of notice; that being the injured workers’ responsibility to inform his/her employer that they have suffered a compensable work injury or job illness. For the traditional work injuries which involve an acute injury after a fall or lifting a heavy object, the injured worker generally knows that they have suffered a work injury at the time of the injury, or at least within 90 days of the work injury. This cannot be said of occupational diseases, because occupational diseases develop over time due to prolonged exposes to a particular hazard which the normal work force is not exposed to. The condition generally develops slowly, over many months and years. Given this fact, in Alabama, in the situation where a worker comes to believe that they may have suffered an occupational disease, the injured worker is not required to provide notice within 90 days of his injury, because there was no specific date in which the work injury was sustained. Rather, the employee must have settled or filed suit on their claim for Alabama workers’ compensation benefits within 2 years of the date they were last exposed to the particular hazard which gave rise to their job illness.

If you have suffered a work injury or believe that you have suffered a job illness/occupational disease such as COPD, pneumoconiosis, cancer, hearing loss, emphysema, black lung, mesothelioma or some other illness and you have questions about your rights under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation law, the experienced Alabama Work Injury attorneys at would be happy to speak with you and try to help you with your questions.

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Powell and Denny have been selected as one of the Best Law Firms in America by U.S. News and World Report for each of the last 4 years, selected as one of Birmingham’s Top Lawyers by B-Metro Magazine for the last 3 years and the law firm of Powell and Denny, P.C. has been selected by The National Advocates as one of the Top 20 Workers’ Compensation Firms (plaintiffs).

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