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Does Workers’ Comp Cover Long Term Conditions?

Does North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Cover my Long-Term Condition?

Although most people think of workers’ compensation as covering on-the-job injuries such as a one-time accident, such as falling off of a ladder, workers’ compensation can also cover injuries caused by misuse, overuse or exposure over a long period of time. Repetitive stress injuries such as chronic back problems or carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as illness due to occupational exposure can be covered by workers’ compensation insurance.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

Repetitive stress injuries have been growing ever more common with the growing reliance on computers in the workplace. Any behavior, even one as seemingly innocuous as holding a telephone between your head and shoulder, can cause long-term chronic pain and conditions when completed on a continually repeated basis as a task of employment. Any sort of repeated bending, lifting and reaching can also easily cause long-term issues. Common kinds of fixed position work that can lead to a repetitive stress injury include:

  • Computer/keyboard use by office workers
  • Cashier work
  • Assembly line work
  • Construction work such as jackhammering, pipe setting, overhead work, cutting, sawing, sanding and painting
  • Mechanic work
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Driving
  • Meat butchering or packing
  • Writing
  • Inventory stocking

Some types of work, including construction, factory and agricultural work, also have high rates of occupational exposure to harmful substances and chemicals. Workplace exposure can add up over time to have a monumental impact on a person’s life.

Covered Conditions and Illnesses

Unless you are a federal worker, the intricacies of workers’ compensation are governed by state law. (All non-federal workers’ comp claims are filed through the workers’ compensation act of state in which you are an employee.) North Carolina’s N.C.G.S. 97-53 lists the conditions that are considered occupational conditions covered by workers’ compensation. They include some of the most common conditions such as:

  • Hearing loss caused by harmful noise in the workplace environment (what qualifies as “hearing loss” is governed by its own set of rules)
  • Bursitis (an inflammation of joint fluid , usually caused by repetitive movement and excessive pressure)
  • Blisters and finger abscesses (called “bone felons”)
  • Miner’s nystagmus (repetitive, involuntary eye movements caused by working the dark)
  • Compressed-air illness
  • Skin irritations/ulcers from exposure to chromium, tar, mineral oil or paraffin
  • Undulant fever (an infectious disease usually caused by handling infected livestock and animal products)
  • Poisoning/disease/injury from exposure to a harmful chemical, including:
    • Anthrax
    • Mercury
    • Arsenic
    • Carbon monoxide
    • Lead poisoning (if the employee was exposed for at least 30 days in the last 12 months and the employer will be the solely liable party for the injury)
    • Sulfuric, hydrochloric, or hydrofluoric acid
    • Radium
    • Asbestos
    • Silica
  • Any other disease that is proven to be due to conditions and causes characteristic of, and unique to, the particular trade, employment or occupation.
    • This catch-all provision can cover many work-related injuries, including carpal tunnel, tendinitis, and other degenerative conditions.
Causation

When an employee develops one of these listed conditions, it is presumed that the employer put the employee at an increased risk for developing or contracting the condition. In order to recover for the occupational condition, the employee still must prove that their job contributed significantly to the development of the condition. This does not mean the job has to be the condition’s only cause; it can be enough that the job either substantially contributed to the condition’s development, or that the job aggravated or accelerated the development of a preexisting condition to the point of disability.

In order to recover for an occupational disease or condition in North Carolina, the employee must also be able to show that the employment put them at an increased risk compared to the general public for developing the disease or condition, and that the employment contributed significantly to its development.

Duration

Workers’ comp law in North Carolina sets duration limits for temporary total disability payments that depend upon the body part affected. The most any temporary total disability can last is 500 weeks, unless the person specially qualifies for extended compensation.

An injured employee can only qualify for permanent total disability if they suffer from one of the following as a result of their work-related injury:

  • Loss of any two (2) of the following: hands, arms, feet, legs, or eyes
  • Spinal injury that results in severe paralysis to the person’s trunk, both arms, or both legs
  • Severe brain/skull injury that is evidenced by permanent and severe:
    • Communication disturbances
    • Sensory or motor disturbances
    • Neurological disorder
    • Disturbance in brain function
  • Second or third-degree burns on one-third or more of the person’s body

If you have been injured on the job, it is important to act quickly to file a claim. Laws called statutes of limitations require an injured worker to file their claim within a certain amount of time after they are injured or learn of their injury. This can be a confusing determination, especially when a person’s injury is a condition that comes about after years of exposure or repetitive stress. If you have been injured on the job it is important to speak with a skilled workers’ compensation attorney. The dedicated and experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are ready to step in and handle your employer, the North Carolina Industrial Commission, and the insurance company so that you do not have to. Contact us today for a consultation with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys about your case.

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