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Workers’ Compensation – Diseases Arising Out Of and in the Course of Employment

The New Jersey Workers Compensation Law recognizes three main types of job related injuries: specific accident claims, occupational exposure claims and repetitive motion claims. This article is about the latter two types of claims that for the purposes of this article are called “occupational” claims.

While most people are aware of their right to seek both monetary and medical benefits, as a result of a specific “work-related” accident, not all accidents are the result of a specific trauma. Many work-related injuries are the result of years of dedication and hard work in an unsafe environment or the result of the repetitive stress placed upon an employee who performs the same tasks over and over. While an employee's recovery under the Workers’ Compensation Law does not differ merely because a claim can be labeled as being an “accident” versus an “occupational claim,” the latter operates under a different set of rules, which are discussed below. 

Compensable “occupational” claims are defined by statute (N.J.S.A. 34:15-31) and include all diseases arising out of and in the course of employment, which are due in a material degree to causes and conditions which are or were characteristic of or peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process or place of employment. Some common examples of this type of “disease” include carpal tunnel, hearing loss or lung disease, cancer, heart problems or mesothelioma.

The disability must be causally related to the work performed or the work environment, as the statute further provides that deterioration of a tissue, organ or part of the body in which the function of such tissue, organ or part of the body is diminished due to the natural aging process thereof is not compensable. 

In addition to the burden on the employee and his or her Workers’ Compensation attorney to prove the existence of an “occupational disease” and a causal connection between the disease and the occupation, the courts have established a strict statute of limitations for the filing of a claim. Generally, our courts have recognized that the period for filing an occupational claim does not run until two years after the date the worker knew the nature of the occupational disability and its relationship to employment.

A worker is not barred from filing a claim simply because he or she is no longer working for the same company or working in the same capacity as he or she was during the occupational exposure. The very nature of occupational claims lends itself to a variety of issues related to the time period within which a claim must be filed because often the disease does not become evident until years after exposure to the cause thereof.

When it comes to occupational disease cases, workers sometimes feel pressure not to file claims for workers' compensation while they are still employed. The culture of the work place discourages workers from filing claims because to do so is seen as an act of disloyalty to the employer. Despite statutes prohibiting discrimination against workers who bring claims, workers still fear that taking action may result in their termination. This alone is enough reason to contact an experienced New Jersey Worker’s Compensation Attorney if you are injured or feel that you are disabled as a result of an occupational disease or exposure. You should be aware of your rights!

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