Workers’ Compensation for Asbestos

Illness from asbestos exposure is easily the most widespread occupational disease in the United States. Asbestos fibers are practically indestructible—they do not dissolve in water or evaporate into air, and are remarkably heat-resistant. The mineral is used widely in construction, automotive and other building materials for its cost-effective and fire-resistant properties. Asbestos use was at its peak in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States.

As more about the extremely harmful long-term effects of asbestos exposure became known, worker protection laws have limited, but not banned, use of the material. However, most asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma, can take years or even decades to develop after exposure ceases. Asbestos-related illness typically manifests in a person’s lungs, taking the form of asbestosis (a chronic lung disease), mesothelioma (a cancer that frequently develops in the lungs, heart, stomach or other organs), or other types of lung cancer.

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, in addition to covering benefits for workers involved in on-the-job accidents, mandates coverage for occupational diseases caused by continuous exposure to dangerous chemicals such as asbestos. Because asbestos-related illnesses develop gradually over a period of years, once a worker has been diagnosed they (or their family, if the person is deceased) may file a workers’ compensation claim against the employer for whom they were working when they were last exposed to harmful asbestos.

Who Can File A Workers’ Comp Claim for Asbestos-Related Illness or Injury?

First, in order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits a person must qualify as an “employee” under the requirements of the NC Workers’ Compensation Act. Many independent contractors will not qualify as an employee for the purposes of workers’ comp, although this is not always the case. Whether or not a worker counts as an employee or independent contractor under NC workers’ comp usually depends on a number of different factors but usually hinges on the amount of control the employer exercised over the person’s work. Any employer that regularly employs three or more regular employees is typically required to carry workers’ compensation insurance for their employees, regardless of whether those employees are full or part time or seasonal. In wrongful death cases, the surviving members of the worker’s family may also be eligible to receive benefits.

Sometimes an employer will erroneously list a worker as an independent contractor for the purposes of workers’ comp so that they do not have to pay for the insurance and increased taxes on the employee. Filing a workers’ comp claim can also be a complicated process for many other reasons, such as if the insurance company wrongly denies your claim. For these reasons it is important to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you are injured on the job.

What Kinds of Benefits Can One Receive for Workers’ Compensation for Asbestos-Related Illness?

The workers’ comp benefits available for injury or illness from asbestos exposure depend on the person’s current medical status.

  • If the worker is currently disabled because of their lung condition, weekly compensation payments may be available and the workers’ related medical bills are eligible for coverage at no cost to the employee. Temporary disability for full incapacitation is calculated at two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wages.
  • Workers whose asbestos-related illness results in permanent lung damage may be eligible to receive further compensation of up to $20,000 per lung (or other organ).
  • Mesothelioma and the other cancers asbestos exposure can cause can unfortunately be life threatening. In the distressing event that the asbestos-related illness caused the death of the worker, the worker’s dependents or next of kin can be eligible for funeral expenses, death benefits and disability payments calculated according to the workers’ average weekly wage at the last date of injury-causing exposure.

Asbestos-related illness can have a devastating impact on a person’s life. If you or a loved one is suffering or recently deceased from asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer or other health problems caused by work-related asbestos exposure, it is important to speak with a workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. Time limits called statutes of limitation require a worker or their surviving family to bring a workers’ comp claim within a certain amount of time, or the claim is lost. The dedicated workers’ compensation attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are prepared to deal with the North Carolina Industrial Commission (the organization that handles workers’ comp claims), your employer and the insurance company so that you do not have to. Contact us today for an initial consultation with one of our workers’ comp attorneys.

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