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L&I Occupational Disease

What is an Occupational Disease?

Legally, an occupational disease is an infection or disease that arises naturally and proximately out of employment. RCW 51.08.140.

In reality, an occupational disease is your medical condition after you wear your body out or get sick from your job.

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. You can have an entire lifetime to file because seldom does the two year SOL begin to run. Longer than a lifetime? Yes. You can heve even longer than a lifetime because the widow can file a claim even after the workers death.

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. That is never bad news.

See the occupational disease statute of limitations (SOL) for precise legal 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 where this disease came from. Others may know where it came from but they are afraid to push the issue. These injured workers are giving up 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
  • a Hanford worker breathing toxic fumes. Hanford Workers and firefighters have special occupational disease laws.
  • 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.

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 trauma over time that cause physical problems to the body because that trauma adds up to a problem. 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 ditch digger 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. It Make a Difference

Too many words are wasted over the distinction between Occupational Disease and Injury. Injured workers unfairly loose time, and benefits when they are required to argue and prove the legal technicality between injury and disease. Procedural and proof difficulties can even cause these workers to lose their claims. This should not happen.

If you are caught between legal theories where various employers and claims managers are arguing injury vs occupational disease – Get legal help.


What’s Next?