December 26, 2012

Occupational Disease vs. Injury

There are two main types of workers' compensation claims in Oregon.  They are categorized by the type and length of harm.

Oregon Workers' Compensation Injury Claim

The first is an work injury.  An injury stems from an acute event.  A good example is falling and breaking an arm, or bending over to lift a box and injuring a back.  These types of injuries occur immediately and can be related to a specific event (i.e., a fall).  The burden of proof for an acute injury is material contributing cause. Under Oregon law this means that the injured worker has to prove a preponderance of the evidence shows some relationship between the injurious event and the subsequent injury.  In other words, if a roofer fell from a ladder and broke his wrist, he would only have to show that he was on the ladder at work and his wrist broke from the fall.  This is often a relatively easy burden to meet, especially when there was an obvious injurious event.  It can be more difficult when the event was less obvious.  For example, if a worker developed back pain after lifting a truckload of heavy boxes, but was not sure if there was a specific moment when the injury occurred.

Oregon Workers' Compensation Occupational Disease Claim

The second type of Oregon workers' compensation claim is an occupational disease.  An occupational disease is something that develops over time.  The most common examples are carpal tunnel syndrome and hearing loss.  Stress claims are also considered occupational diseases, even when related to one event.

The burden of proof for an occupational disease claim is major contributing cause.  This means the injured worker must prove that his or her overall employment (from their whole life) is the major contributing cause (greater than 50 percent) of the occupational disease.  For example, if a truck driver developed hearing loss, it would be their burden to prove that their employment over their lifetime is the greater than 50 percent cause of the hearing loss.  This burden can be difficult to prove and it is generally harder to prevail on an occupational disease claim than an injury claim.

December 5, 2012

Hearing Loss Workers' Comp Claims

Proving Hearing Loss Related to Noise Exposure at Work

Hearing loss is a common form of an occupational disease workers' compensation claim.  The term "occupational disease" simply means that is develops over time as opposed to acutely from one accident.

The burden to prove an occupational disease falls on the injured worker in Oregon.  The injured worker has to prove that his or her overall work activities are the major contributing cause of the occupational disease.  In the case of hearing loss, this would mean the worker must prove his or her lifetime of employment was greater than 50 percent the cause of their hearing loss.

There are multiple factors that can cause hearing loss.  First, is genetics or a family history.  Second, are injuries or illnesses such as very high childhood fevers.  Third, is normal aging.  This is often called presbycusis which is the Latin term for "aging ear."  Finally, exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss.  This is usually from gun use (target practice, hunting, or military experience), riding motorcycles, or from work exposure.  There are many types of jobs that have very high noise exposure levels.  Common ones include truck driving, welders, firemen, pilots, and metal fabricators.

If you think you have hearing loss related to exposure to loud noise at work, it is important to file your workers' compensation claim as soon as possible.  The longer you wait the more likely it is that you will also have aging of the ears making it more difficult to prove that the majority of your hearing loss is related to work.

Responsibility and Hearing Loss Workers' Compensation Claims

Once you have filed your workers' compensation claim for hearing loss, the insurer will do one of several things   They may accept the claim.  Or, they may deny the claim.  A denial can be for several reasons.  The most common is called a compensability denial and is when the insurer is denying the claim because they do not think your hearing loss is related to your work exposure.  But, they may also deny your workers' compensation claim because they do not think they are the insurer responsible for your hearing loss.  In this scenario, the insurer is essentially acknowledging that your hearing loss is related to your employment, but they think a different insurer or employer should pay for it.  This comes up quite often when an injured worker has worked for several different employers and had noise exposure at each job.

When this happens, you will need a workers' compensation attorney to help you file against the other employers and insurers and appeal your responsibility denial.

If you have any additional questions, or would like a free attorney consultation, call our office at 503-975-5575.