Massachusetts Court Discusses Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Illnesses

While most people think of workers’ compensation claims as arising out of bodily injuries, claimants can also seek benefits for illnesses they develop due to workplace conditions. In many cases, occupational illnesses take years to develop, and it can be difficult to demonstrate a causal link between a workplace and an ailment. A claimant the fails to adequately prove causation may be denied benefits, as demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts ruling issued in a workers compensation case. If you sustained an illness because of your work environment, you might be owed benefits from your employer, and you should speak to a knowledgeable Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney about your rights.

History of the Case

It is reported that in 1968, the claimants assisted in the cleanup of radioactive materials that were released at a United States military base in Greenland. During the process, they were exposed to plutonium radiation. They later developed illnesses that they alleged were the result of their exposure and filed claims for workers’ compensation benefits under the Defense Base Act, which is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The administrative law judge conducted a series of hearings but ultimately denied their claims. The claimants then filed a petition for review.

Recovering Benefits for Occupational Illnesses

The LHWCA provides compensation for injuries that arise out of and in the course of employment. The LHWCA provides, in part, that injuries include occupational infections and diseases that arise naturally out of employment or as an inevitable result of an accidental injury. Thus, in order to receive benefits under the LHWCA, a claimant must demonstrate that there is a causal nexus between his ailment and his employment activities.

LHWCA claims are analyzed under a burden-shifting framework, which means that the claimant must first establish, prima facie, a right to benefits by showing he suffered physical harm and that there were conditions in the workplace that could have caused the harm. If the claimant meets this burden, there is a presumption that the injury was caused by the conditions encountered at work and is therefore compensable. The employer can rebut the presumption, though, by presenting substantial evidence indicating that a reasonable person would find that there is inadequate proof that the injury was caused by working conditions.

If the employer is able to rebut the presumption, the burden shifts back to the claimant to show that the injuries were, in fact, caused by conditions encountered in the workplace. In the subject case, the court found that while the claimants set forth a prima facie case, the employer convincingly demonstrated that their illnesses were most likely not caused by plutonium radiation. Further, the claimants did not offer sufficient evidence to establish a causal nexus between their exposure to the substance and their illnesses. Thus, their petition for review was denied.

Speak to a Seasoned Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Disorders caused by environmental conditions in the workplace can cause lasting harm, but fortunately, people who suffer occupational illnesses can often recover workers’ compensation benefits. If you are suffering from a workplace injury, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney about your options for seeking benefits. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a seasoned Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer with the knowledge and experience needed to handle complicated claims for benefits, and if he represents you, he will help you to seek any benefits you may be owed. You can contact Mr. Meehan via the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600 to set up a meeting.