Proving a condition is an occupational illness can be complex in NY

In New York, diseases and other gradual injuries that arise in the course of a person’s work must meet distinct criteria to qualify as occupational illnesses.

By definition, occupational illnesses are conditions that arise because of a person's unique working conditions or job duties. Under New York workers' compensation laws, these injuries may qualify as compensable work-related injuries. However, not all gradual-onset injuries and diseases are considered occupational illnesses. People seeking workers' compensation for these conditions in Staten Island must first prove that the disabling condition meets specific criteria.

Unique job-related hazards

Materials from the New York Attorney General explain that there are two primary types of occupational illnesses. Occupational diseases arise due to exposure to chemicals, toxins or other environmental hazards. Occupational injuries that aren't diseases, such as hearing loss or repetitive stress injuries, occur due to regular working conditions. Under the workers' compensation system, all of these ailments are classified as occupational illnesses.

Diseases or gradual injuries that originate in the workplace may not always be considered occupational illnesses, however. These injuries or diseases must develop due to unusual risks that are inherent to the person's job. Conditions that arise as a result of risks that the general public faces cannot be classified as occupational illnesses.

The example of a worker who contracts an infectious disease helps illustrate this distinction. If the employee works in healthcare and contracts the disease from a patient, the disease may be considered an occupational illness. This is because exposure to diseases is a typical aspect of the worker's job. However, if the person works in another field, such as retail, contracting diseases doesn't represent a typical job-related risk. Therefore, the disease may not qualify as an occupational illness.

Establishing occupational illnesses

Proving that some conditions qualify as occupational illnesses may be relatively straightforward. For instance, certain diseases, such as silicosis or asbestosis, may be known risks of a given occupation. Similarly, wrist, back and neck injuries due to repetitive strain may be recognized as common injuries in certain professions.

If only one worker at a given workplace develops an injury or disease, the condition may still be considered an occupational illness. However, it may be more challenging for the worker to prove that the condition qualifies as such. The worker would first need to document his or her exposure to a unique hazard at work. Then, the worker would need to prove that the condition developed as a result of the exposure.

Often, employment records or statements from injured employees may establish the existence of a workplace hazard. The opinion of a medical professional may then help show the connection between the hazard and the injury or disease.

Pursuing benefits

Securing workers' compensation benefits for occupational illnesses can be challenging, even when a condition represents a known occupational risk. Making a successful claim may be even more difficult for workers who develop obscure or unusual conditions. Considering this, workers suffering from occupational illnesses should think about seeking legal advice. An attorney may be able to offer guidance during the workers' compensation claim process.

Keywords: workers' compensation, benefits, illness