Employment-related cancer, such as mesothelioma, is one of the biggest percentages of work-related deaths and costs in the US. Diseases related to asbestos exposure affects thousands of workers in many occupations. Some of the workers who were injured by asbestos on the job may be eligible for worker’s compensation to help to pay for their medical bills and other damages.
How to Access Worker’s Compensation
Tapping into the worker’s comp system in your state is one option if you have been exposed to asbestos on the job. However, the worker’s compensation program can be complex for the layperson to navigate. And in some cases, you may only be able to get a small amount of financial help from that system. If you are injured by asbestos and have mesothelioma, you should talk to a qualified mesothelioma attorney to explore all of your financial options, including the worker’s compensation system.
The importance of exploring every financial avenue with a qualified attorney is of paramount importance: A KCIC industry report found that 4,251 lawsuits were filed for asbestos-related claims in 2017. (Kcic.com).This is because many former employees who suffered from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases could not get enough compensation through the worker’s comp system.
Overview of the Worker’s Compensation System
Workers comp was established to compensate employees who were injured on the job. Before the 1920s, it was necessary for workers to sue their companies to get compensation for injuries at work. Many states passed workers comp laws in the 1920s, and these new laws meant that employees did not have to file expensive lawsuits and prove the employer was negligent. By the 1930s, it became common for many former employees with lung diseases from their jobs to use the worker’s comp system to obtain financial compensation.
Today, all states feature a worker’s compensation system. These laws help to provide several benefits to workers injured on the job. These laws also set up procedures to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.
Potential benefits from the worker’s comp system for injured workers include:
- Medical costs
- Temporary or permanent disability income
- Help in finding another job, as needed
Laws for worker’s compensation vary by each state and are administered by the state board for each state. Payments to those with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related injuries usually include a fixed level of compensation. The level of compensation is normally spelled out in the state’s statute and is based upon the level of injury.
However, replacement income only offers partial compensation for income that is lost. It usually is subject to several limits as well. But families of workers who died from mesothelioma can apply for benefits, too.
Employers usually have to keep some type of insurance coverage to pay for job-related injuries. If you suspect you have been injured on the job from asbestos exposure, you are required to report the injury in writing to the employer within a certain timeframe. The employer then needs to give the worker a claim form, and is responsible for turning in that form to the local workers comp board office and its insurance company.
To file a successful workers comp case for asbestos exposure, you need to have the following:
- Evidence of a mesothelioma diagnosis and all the medical treatments needed
- Details of how you were exposed to asbestos, such as the type of asbestos, where, when and how long the exposure was
- Any equipment the company offered to protect you against asbestos exposure
Workers’ Compensation and Lawsuits
Your qualified mesothelioma attorney can help you to determine whether you should file a claim with your employer, or a legal action against a manufacturer of asbestos-related products. Some of the considerations as you make this decision include:
Time Constraints for Claims
Like most lawsuits, a worker’s compensation claim has to be filed within a certain time period. Every state has guidelines that state when and how a claim must be filed.
Most mesothelioma cases were caused by exposure to asbestos on the job, but not everyone who suffers this terrible cancer can file a worker’s compensation claim. Many factors that are used to decide the level of compensation, such as age, occupation and salary, can change a great deal between the time you were exposed to asbestos and when the illness was discovered.
Because the latency period from exposure to diagnosis can be decades, mesothelioma is not often diagnosed in the proper time frame suitable to make a worker’s compensation claim. Also, most workers who have mesothelioma are not employed by that company anymore where the exposure happened. However, patients with asbestosis, could more likely qualify for a workers comp claim because this disease has a shorter period of latency.
Mesothelioma Lawsuits May Provide Better Compensation
The level of compensation that you can get through your employer for your asbestos-related injuries is often lower than what you can gain through litigation. The maximum amount of compensation you can get in a worker’s comp claim is often limited by the laws of the state. But litigation awards have no limit, and can include high levels of compensation for punitive damages and pain and suffering.
Workers Comp Benefits Are Not Guaranteed
Claims for workers compensation do not assign blame, as opposed to a personal injury lawsuit. The process for a workers comp claim is not adversarial. But just as with lawsuits, the outcome of a claim is affected by the circumstances of the specific case. Merely filing a claim does not guarantee that you will receive benefits.
If there is a dispute with your claim or you do not like the outcome of your workers comp hearing for mesothelioma compensation, note that you can appeal to the state workers comp commissioner or to the state’s court of appeals.
Also note that ample compensation for your mesothelioma claim also may be available through asbestos bankruptcy trust funds, government disability programs and the VA, if the exposure occurred during your military service.
Federal Workers Compensation
There also is a worker’s compensation program for federal workers that works similarly to state programs for private sector workers. The Department of Labor’s Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs or OWCP oversees four programs for workers or their surviving family members to get benefits due to a workplace injury or illness. All federal employees do get coverage, but the OWCP also features several subprograms for specific workers, such as harbor workers and longshoremen. (Dol.gov).
Just as with the state-regulated workers compensation programs, compensation for federal workers exposed to asbestos allows for a certain level of income replacement and medical benefits. These workers also may be eligible for training for a new job, if they are able to still work.
Workers compensation programs offer yet another avenue for the victims of asbestos exposure to seek compensation. However, it is imperative to consult with an experienced mesothelioma attorney in your state to determine which are the best ways to obtain as much compensation for your injuries as possible. In some cases, it is preferable to sue the manufacturer of asbestos-related products for damages, as this is the way to get the highest possible compensation for your serious medical costs and pain and suffering.
- Federal Workers Compensation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/workcomp
- 2017 Asbestos Report. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.kcic.com/asset/pdf/KCIC-2017-AsbestosReport.pdf