Do I Have An Occupational Illness Claim Under Virginia Workers’ Compensation?
If you developed a disease that you believe is caused by your employment, you may be able to claim compensation for it. Though most people think of sudden accident injuries when we talk of workers’ compensation, Virginia workers’ comp also covers an “occupational disease.” What you need to determine first is whether your health condition gives you a valid claim. These are some primary considerations.
Is Your Disease An Occupational Illness?
To answer this, let’s first take a look at the official definition of “occupational disease.” Virginia Code §65.2-400 defines occupational disease as one that’s “arising out of and in the course of employment, but not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed outside of the employment.”
There are a number of criteria for this, and foremost of them is that there should be “a direct causal connection” between your work conditions and your illness.
You’ll need to establish this direct causation using your doctor’s official diagnosis and opinion. Your physician has to officially name your illness and state that it is related to your job.
Some of the common occupational illnesses are allergic reactions, respiratory diseases, communicable blood diseases (especially among healthcare workers), and cancer.
What about “ordinary diseases of life” such as carpal tunnel syndrome and hearing loss? These health conditions can result from non-work-related causes, too – can they still be considered an occupational disease? The answer depends on the circumstances and how well you can establish that your work caused the illness. It’s all the more important here to have your doctor’s official opinion pinpointing your work as the cause.
The only exception to this is if you are a police officer or a firefighter who has a heart or lung disease. Virginia has a “heart and lung law” that presumes that heart or lung conditions are related to first-responder jobs. This means police officers and firefighters do not need a doctor’s statement to establish that their health condition is an occupational illness.
Is Your Case Still Within The Legal Deadlines?
There are two time limits you must keep in mind in your occupational disease claim:
- Notifying your employer. VA law requires you to give a written notice of your illness to your employer within 60 days of your official diagnosis. If you fail to notify them within this period, your employer will have strong grounds to deny your claim.
- Statutes of limitations. These statutes or laws set a time period within which you can file your claim. There are several of these time limits in VA, but the two main deadlines are: A) two years from the date you learned your diagnosis, or B) five years from the date you were last exposed to the hazardous condition at your work. Once the statute of limitations expires, you will likely lose your right to pursue the claim.
Does Your Employer Have Workers’ Comp?
A Virginia employer that has three or more employees is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Though it’s rare to find companies that violate this requirement, you still want to make sure that the company you work for has protection for their workers.
These are only the basic questions you need to ask to determine if you have a valid occupational disease claim. As you can see, there are exceptions and some leeway in interpreting the law. The best way to assess your specific case is to talk to a workers’ comp attorney who is knowledgeable about the Virginia legal system.
Call Slominski Law
Attorney Jaleh K. Slominski has extensive hands-on experience in Virginia workers’ comp cases. Your initial consultation with her firm is absolutely free. Call our Lynchburg office at (434) 434-384-9400, or our Roanoke office at (540) 554-3762.