Seeking workers’ compensation for an occupational disease in Minnesota

Victims of occupational diseases must meet distinct criteria to prove a given impairment is work-related and legally qualifies as one of these diseases.

Job-related injuries are an all-too-common risk for employees in Minnesota. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 alone, over three out of every 100 employees in the state suffered work-related injuries or illnesses. Every job presents unique dangers, and sadly, in many professions workers may be exposed to serious long-term illnesses in addition to other injuries. Fortunately, in certain cases the victims of these occupational diseases may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

Legal criteria

Under Minnesota law, physical diseases and posttraumatic stress disorder may be considered occupational diseases. Physical injuries that lead to PTSD and mental trauma that results in the manifestation of a physical injury may also be classified as occupational diseases. However, to qualify as such, a condition must meet the following criteria:

· The disease must arise "out of and in the course of" the victim's employment.

· The employment must be a direct and proximate cause of the condition.

· The disease must develop due to a hazard that is unique to the victim's line of work, rather than a hazard that is present in most jobs or in everyday life.

State law also specifies that PTSD cannot qualify as an occupational disease if it results from various good faith actions on the part of an employer, including transfers, promotions, evaluations and termination.

Causal issues

When seeking workers' compensation benefits for an occupational disease, an employee must show that the condition arose as a direct result of exposure to hazardous conditions in the workplace. In some cases, employees may need to prove that other factors - such as personal hobbies or lifestyle choices - were not a direct and proximate cause of the disease.

State law makes a positive presumption when firefighters and certain law enforcement authorities make claims for specific occupational diseases. If one of these employees develops myocarditis, coronary sclerosis or pneumonia, the condition is presumed to be an occupational disease. The same is true when a firefighter develops any disabling type of cancer that is known to stem from exposure to carcinogens, radiation or heat.

Unique challenges

Unfortunately, securing workers' compensation benefits for an occupational disease can be challenging for multiple reasons. Many occupational diseases have longer latency periods, which can make identifying and documenting causal factors difficult. Furthermore, certain occupational diseases, such as adult asthma and lung cancer, may have multiple underlying causes. This may make it difficult to conclusively establish a person's employment as a direct, proximate cause of the condition.

In light of these issues, it is often advisable for anyone who has developed an occupational disease to seek legal assistance. A workers' compensation attorney may be able to help a person more effectively document the causes of the disease and put together a credible legal claim.