Unlike a workplace accident that results from a single traumatic event, occupational diseases develop gradually over time, often due to repetitive work activities or exposure to harmful substances. Even though the worker may have difficulty identifying a specific event that caused their occupational injury, the worker is still entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.
Unfortunately, many employers and worker’s compensation insurance carriers continue to deny claims for occupational disease. Common reasons for the denial of benefits include an inability to identify a specific date of injury, or a healthcare provider who does not fully understand the worker’s history of repetitive work activities or exposure.
Establishing a specific date of injury and identifying the work activities or exposure is crucial to successfully bringing a claim for worker’s compensation benefits. Having a knowledgeable and experienced workers compensation attorney can mean the difference between success, and having your claim for benefits be denied.
Kingree Law will analyze your claim, explain your options, and help you recover the worker’s compensation benefits you are entitled to receive. Luke Kingree is recognized in Wisconsin’s legal community as a powerful advocate for injured workers. He has handled over 1,000 worker’s compensation cases and regularly achieves successful results.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) defines an occupational disease as “chronic physical or mental harm caused by exposure over a period of time to some employment-related substance, condition or activity.” Examples of occupational diseases include injuries to your spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, or knees due to repetitive work activities. Occupational diseases also include lung disease, dermatitis (skin trouble), neurological disorders, and COVID infection. Occupational diseases also include repeated single-event injuries that are each relatively minor or small, but which all combine to weaken your body parts to the point where you have a permanent disability or permanent restrictions.
Workers compensation claims for occupational disease present challenging questions, especially when it comes to identifying the liable employer, the liable worker’s compensation carrier is under the Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Act, and the date of the worker’s injury. These questions become even more complicated when a worker has had multiple employers over a long career, any of which could have contributed to the worker’s occupational disease.
To bring a claim for an occupational disease, the worker must identify a specific date of injury and a single employer (and their worker’s compensation carrier). This is easier to accomplish when the worker has only had a single employer over their entire career. The question is more difficult when several employers could have contributed to the worker’s condition.
Under Wisconsin’s occupational disease statute, if the date of injury occurred after the worker ceased all employment that contributed to the occupational disability, the date of injury is the worker’s last day of employment with the employer that last contributed caused the occupational disease. For example, if a worker worked for three different companies and all three contributed to the worker’s occupational lung disease, the worker can file a worker’s compensation claim against the last employer that contributed to the occupational disease. The worker’s date of injury would be their last date of employment with the third and final company.
However, if more than 12 years have passed since the worker was exposed to the repetitive work activities or hazardous condition, the worker’s claim is barred under Wisconsin's statute of limitations. In this case, the injured worker could file a claim under the Wisconsin Work Injury Supplemental Benefit Fund. The worker could claim the same benefits they would be eligible to receive if they filed their claim against a private workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
Establishing causation is often the most challenging aspect of filing a worker’s compensation claim for an occupational disease.
Wisconsin law allows a worker to recover benefits if the employee’s work was: the sole cause of the condition; a substantial factor in aggravating, precipitating, and accelerating beyond normal progression a pre-existing condition; or a material contributory causative factor in the onset or progression of the condition. Notably, if the need for medical treatment for a pre-existing or degenerative condition was accelerated by as little as several months because of work exposure or repetitive work activities, the entire condition becomes work-related under Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation law.
Proving causation requires a medical opinion from the worker’s doctor. However, the employer will almost always provide a report that contradicts the opinion of the worker’s physician. Resolving the dispute becomes a matter of law that must be decided by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Workers’ Compensation Division.
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you navigate the complexities of the Wisconsin workers’ compensation system and improve the likelihood of a successful resolution to your claim for occupation disease.
To learn more, see our FAQ section and Information Center on workers’ compensation benefits. Then contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your situation and how we can help.