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Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Occupational Illnesses?


Many workers place their health at risk each day to perform their job duties. In 2018, statistics show that more than 140,000 nonfatal injuries and illnesses occurred among private-sector employees in New York. Over 80,000 of the illnesses and injuries reported were severe enough to warrant taking time from work, transferring, or having restrictions imposed on their work activities. 

Most people are aware that they may be entitled to compensation for injuries they sustain as a result of their employment. However, you should also understand that you may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation if you suffer from an occupational illness or disease. 

Depending on how the workplace injury or illness arose, you may also be able to recover your economic and non-economic damages from a negligent third-party by pursuing a personal injury action.

What is an Occupational Illness?

Those who work in construction, manufacturing, and related industries are not only at risk of injury from falls, being struck by objects, or electrocution — they’re also regularly exposed to various toxins, chemicals, and other harmful materials that can cause ongoing health issues, disability, and even fatality. 

New York Workers’ Compensation Law defines an occupational disease as one that “arises from the conditions to which a specific type of worker is exposed.” The illness or disease must occur “as a natural incident of a particular occupation.” This means that it must be shown that the illness is related to the working environment connected with the type of work you perform or your job functions. Pre-existing conditions do not qualify for Workers’ Compensation. 

Some examples of occupational illnesses covered by Workers’ Compensation can include: 

  • Asbestosis 
  • Hearing loss 
  • Asthma
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Skin diseases
  • Poisoning
  • Cancer

Occupational illnesses are not the same as workplace injuries. While an injury may be caused by one specific accident or incident, work-related illnesses often take months or years to develop.     

What Can You Recover in a Workers’ Compensation Claim for a Workplace Injury or Illness?

If you’ve suffered from a work-related illness or injury, Workers’ Compensation will cover up to a certain amount of your medical treatment and lost wages. To obtain Workers’ Compensation benefits for an injury, you must provide your employer notice within thirty days. If you become disabled due to an occupational illness, you generally have two years to file from the date you found out about the illness that caused the disability.    

Workers’ Compensation also provides death benefits to families who lost loved ones to a workplace injury or illness. 

In many cases, Workers’ Compensation does not provide adequate financial recovery for employees who were injured on the job or suffered from a work-related illness. In these cases, they may be able to pursue a personal injury action against a negligent third party.

Can You File a Personal Injury Action for a Workplace Accident or Illness?

Under New York Workers’ Compensation laws, employees are generally barred from suing their employers for injuries that occur at work. However, workers may be entitled to commence a personal injury action against a negligent third party to recover unreimbursed medical expenses and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. 

The facts and circumstances of whether a third-party can be held liable for negligence in a personal injury lawsuit for a workplace injury or illness are extremely fact-specific. In a construction accident, liability might fall on a third-party such as a subcontractor, engineer, or architect. Where workplace-related illnesses are concerned, a products liability lawsuit may be pursued against the manufacturer of a product containing toxins if you can demonstrate a causal link to your illness. You may also be able to commence a suit against a third-party who failed to provide adequate safety equipment or training. 

Contact a New York Personal Injury Attorney

Proving liability in cases involving workplace illnesses or injuries can be extremely complex. It’s best to discuss the specific facts and circumstances of your case with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer who can best advise you concerning your legal rights and remedies. A personal injury attorney who handles cases involving workplace injuries and illnesses will know how to properly investigate your claim and ensure that you receive the maximum compensation you’re entitled.

The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has convenient office locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, as well as mobile locations serving Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester, Rockland County, and on Long Island in Nassau County, and Suffolk County. Contact us today for a free consultation.