"Occupational disease" and workers’ comp in New York

For purposes of New York's Workers' Compensation Law, an "occupational disease" is compensable when it is a "disease resulting from the nature of employment and contracted therein." McKinney's Workers' Compensation Law § 2(15). It must be caused by a distinctive feature of the work performed both by the claimant and others who perform work similar to the claimant.

If the disease is caused by the environment in which work is conducted, rather than the distinctive nature of the work, then it is not compensable under workers' compensation law as an occupational disease. For example, in a case involving a reading teacher who suffered injury to her vocal cords caused by poor ventilation in her classroom, the teacher's injury was not an "occupational disease" and therefore not compensable under workers' comp because it was the result of her environment or location rather than the distinctive nature of her employment. Note, however, that just because the teacher's injury was not compensable as an occupational disease, it may still be compensable as an accidental injury under New York workers' comp laws.

Like other injuries compensable under workers' comp, an occupational disease requires an injury that arose out of employment. Unlike other injuries compensable under workers' comp, an occupational disease requires additional proof of disability. A disability is "the state of being disabled from earning full wages at the work at which the employee was last employed." McKinney's Workers' Compensation Law § 37(1). There must be evidence that the reduction in wages is the result of the disability and not the result of poor economic conditions or factors other than the disability.

When a claimant presents evidence to prove that he or she has suffered an occupational injury compensable under worker's comp, the evidence should include medical opinions. The medical opinions should "demonstrate a causal relationship between the condition of the claimant and a distinctive feature of his or her employment. It should show a probable cause of the injury which is supported on a rational basis." 27 N.Y. Prac., Workers' Compensation § 12:2.

Pre-existing conditions do not necessarily prevent the finding of a compensable occupational disease. If the claimant can prove that his or her employment exacerbated the pre-existing condition and caused a disability, then a compensable occupational injury may be found to exist. In the case of pre-existing conditions, it is important that the pre-existing condition, prior to exacerbation, be dormant and non-disabling.

When an occupational disease is compensable, compensation is payable for the duration of the disablement. In the case where the occupational disease resulted in death, compensation is payable as a death benefit award.

If you believe you suffered an occupational injury caused by the distinctive nature of your employment, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury. To learn more, contact our office today to schedule a consultation with a New York workers' compensation attorney to discuss your claim.