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L&I Occupational Disease

What is an Occupational Disease?

An occupation disease is an infection or disease that arises naturally and proximately out of employment. RCW 51.08.140.

Statute of Limitations – How long do you have to file an L&I claim for an occupational disease?

The occupational disease statute of limitations (SOL)specifies that a Report of Industrial Injury or Occupational Disease must be filed within two years. Filing the report starts the L&I claim.

Many persons actually have a lifetime or longer to file their occupational disease claims, because seldom does the two year SOL begin to run.

When does the two year SOL begin to run?

The Statute of Limitations starts the day a physician or a nurse practitioner gives written notice to the worker of:

a) the existence of the disease, and
b) that a claim for disability benefits may be filed.

For most occupational diseases, physicians do not give this notice to their patients. As a result the SOL does not begin to run.

See the occupational disease statute of limitations (SOL) for exact details; RCW 51.28.055.

Occupational disease can be difficult to understand.

Occupational diseases may be obvious, but many, due to the long latency period, are difficult or nearly impossible to spot. Many valid occupational disease claims are never filed because the connection between work and disease is not recognized. Many workers struggle and die because they just don’t know about where this disease came from and their right to medical care and other benefits.

Examples of occupational diseases include:

  • woodworker breathing cedar dust and getting asthma
  • construction trade and mechanics working with asbestos and getting mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer
  • machinists breathing or touching solvents such as MEK or toluene and getting dermatits or liver and kidney damage
  • workers breathing benzene fumes and contracting acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) or kidney cancer
  • working close to acids, smoke, and nitrogen oxides and getting bronchitis
  • bakers breathing flour and getting asthma
  • machine operators breathing cutting oils and getting hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • painters, bridge workers, radiator repairmen, and metal recyclers working with lead and contracting chronic encephalopathy
  • pesticide applicators and downwinders breathing organophosphates and having peripheral polyneuropathy
  • health care workers and prison guards getting bloodborne infections such as HIV and hepatitis B; airborne infections like TB; and other infections such as hepatitis A
  • welders and metal platers who work with chromium contracting lung cancer
  • plastic manufacturers working with vinyl chloride getting liver cancer, or benzidine and getting bladder cancer
  • There are hundreds more occupational diseases. Some of them have not as of yet even been recognized, because the ability of industry to poison workers far out paces medicine’s ability to understand and treat the diseases.
  • A Hanford worker breathing toxic fumes. Hanford Workers and firefighters have special occupational disease laws.

L&I Law is not taught in schools. It’s hard to find and difficult to understand. As a result many occupational diseases are unrecognized as such and consequently not fully appreciated or despised for the killers and cripplers that they are.

What About the Widow? – Good news here. Even after death a spouse can still file an occupational disease claim for the deceased spouse, and still get benefits.

Repetitive Trauma

Repetitive trauma is a series of little traumas over time that cause physical problems to the body because of their cumulative effect. They are a hybrid type of claim that could be both or either an injury or an occupational disease. An example of repetitive trauma is a jack hammer operator who wears out his hands and arms, a little bit everyday over the course of time. Each day causes a minor problem, but over time it becomes a major problem, and an L&I claim.

Occupational Disease vs Injury

Too much is currently made of the distinction between Occupational Disease and Injury. Injured workers unfairly loose time, money, and resources when they are required to argue and prove the legal differences between different types of job related insults to their body. Sometimes the procedural and proof difficulties even cause these workers to lose their claims. This should not happen.

If you are caught between a rock and a hard spot where various employers and claims managers are pointing at each other and arguing injury vs occupational disease – Get legal help.


What’s Next?