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When does workers’ compensation cover ordinary diseases of life?

On Behalf of | Jun 8, 2022 | Workers' Compensation |

There are a lot of medical conditions that people can develop for any number of reasons. In workers’ compensation law, this is called an “ordinary disease of life.” 

Under Virginia law, an ordinary disease of life can be considered an occupational disease and therefore eligible for workers’ comp benefits. However, that’s only if the employee can establish “by clear and convincing evidence” that it is work-related.

What does an employee have to show? 

They have to show that the condition was not caused by anything outside of their workplace. For example, if a medical professional or first responder gets a communicable disease after being in close contact with a patient who had it, it may qualify as an occupational disease. 

That’s probably easier to prove if it’s a condition that’s highly contagious and that the employee wasn’t exposed to anywhere else (and if they reported the exposure immediately – if they knew about it). 

The level of exposure may also be a factor. Medical and emergency personnel often come into contact with patients’ blood, for example, which can spread HIV and numerous blood-borne conditions.

Of course, there are numerous other conditions, like respiratory and skin diseases, for example, that people can develop as a result of their work but also simply because they’re prone to them. One case that made it to a Virginia appeals court involved a woman who was awarded workers’ compensation for hand eczema, which she said she got through her work in a factory. 

When her employer and the insurer appealed the decision, the court ruled that she had a “tendency” to develop this condition and her work merely aggravated it. Therefore, it wasn’t covered by workers’ comp.

Under Virginia law, a condition, if not directly related to a specific event or exposure at work must be “characteristic of the employment and was caused by conditions peculiar to such employment.”

This can all be challenging to prove. If you’re dealing with a denial of workers’ comp for a condition you believe you developed because of your occupation, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to help protect your rights.