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Defining Occupational Disease in New York

Most people are very familiar with traumatic or specific injuries. An employee slips and falls at work while she is engaged in her work duties and breaks her ankle – this is an example of a traumatic or specific injury that was suffered in the course of a workers’ employment. In the aforementioned example, after investigation of the facts it is usually easy to ascertain if the employee’s accident “arose out of and in the course of her employment.”  Therefore, this type of injury will likely be covered under New York’s Workers’ Compensation Law.

An occupational disease is slightly more difficult to define, but like traumatic injuries, if it is determined by the Workers’ Compensation Board that an occupational disease was developed in the course of a workers’ employment, the person suffering from the disease will be entitled to medical and indemnity benefits associated with the work related disease under New York’s Workers’ Compensation Law. Occupational diseases are injuries and/or conditions that arise out of a workers’ employment, usually through exposure to specific harmful conditions or through repetitive physical actions.

The most common occupational diseases include the following:

  • Chemical poisoning/ Lung diseases (conditions suffered through prolonged exposure to chemicals like lead, asbestos, etc.)
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (caused by repetitive physical motions)
  • Skin Carcinomas
  • Hearing impairment (caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

A more comprehensive list of Occupational Diseases was defined by the International Labour Organization and can be found here.

Typically, it is slightly more difficult to establish that occupational diseases are work related or attributable to a specific employer because the nature of the onset of a disease is such that most take many years to develop or become symptomatic and most people switch jobs periodically throughout their lives. Therefore, issues such as apportionment of liability may arise. Generally, if it can be established that an occupational disease is work related and once the nature of the disease is specified, a worker suffering from such a disease will be entitled to indemnity benefits and medical benefits just like he or she would have been if they had suffered from a traumatic or specific physical injury at work.

However, it should be noted that under Workers’ Compensation Law Section 28, a person must submit a claim for an occupational disease within two (2) years of when the employee knew or should have known that the alleged condition was due to their employment, or within two (2) years of the date the employee was disabled as a result of the condition, whichever is later or the worker will be barred from bringing the claim.

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