If you’re exposed to asbestos, there’s a good chance it happened while you were on the job. Many asbestos products were used in homes and vehicles, but workplace exposures were much higher. You may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if you’re injured on the job, including by a work-related disease like lung cancer or mesothelioma.
Who is Covered by Workers’ Compensation?
With a few exceptions, all Kentucky employers are covered by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. They must carry insurance or be self-insured (except if they’re exclusively engaged in agriculture).
Firefighters are especially vulnerable to asbestos exposure. If an asbestos product is in a burning building, asbestos fibers are probably going into the air with the smoke or the steam created when water hits something hot.
Every member of a volunteer ambulance service, fire, or police department is considered an employee of the political subdivision of the state organizing the department, so they qualify for workers’ compensation.
Does Workers’ Compensation Cover an Asbestos-Related Disease?
Workers’ compensation insurance benefits workers harmed by workplace injuries and occupational diseases. Under state law, an injury or disease must be work-related or it “arises out of and in the course of employment.”
The benefits include payments for injury-related medical expenses, partial wage replacement, payments to dependents of those killed on the job, and other payments in certain circumstances.
“Injury means any work-related traumatic event or series of events, including cumulative trauma, arising out of and in the course of employment which is the proximate cause producing a harmful change in the human organism evidenced by objective medical findings.”
An asbestos-related disease could be seen as an injury due to the cumulative trauma of repeated asbestos exposure at work. Kentucky workers’ compensation law also covers occupational diseases (like mesothelioma or lung cancer). These conditions are caused by exposure to a workplace hazard (asbestos), and they usually develop over a long time.
The employer where you were last exposed to asbestos is responsible for paying you benefits. You’d need a physician’s opinion to establish that your work caused your injury or disease.
How Much Time Do I Have to Seek Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
To have a valid claim, you must notify your employer of the injury or disease. When asbestos is involved, it may be years or decades after exposure before you’re diagnosed, but that’s not necessarily a problem.
Kentucky’s workers’ compensation laws address the issue of an occupational disease that may take years to develop (including those that are asbestos-related) and when to give the employer notice and file a claim.
The workers’ compensation statute states you must give notice (which can also be a benefits claim) of a work-related “accident” must be given “as soon as practicable after the happening thereof[.]” You’re not obliged to provide this notice until you become aware of it.
If you have an occupational disease, another part of the statute states, “…notice of claim shall be given to the employer as soon as practicable after the employee first experiences a distinct manifestation of an occupational disease in the form of symptoms reasonably sufficient to apprise the employee that he or she has contracted the disease, or a diagnosis of the disease is first communicated to him or her, whichever shall first occur.”
If an injury is related to work-related exposure to cumulative trauma, your claim will be barred unless notice to the employer is given within two years from when you were told by a physician this trauma injury is work-related.
There is an important limitation on pursuing an asbestos related workers compensation claim. Under Kentucky law, if the disease manifests more than twenty (20) years from the date of your last injurious exposure, your claim must be denied. However, you should always consult with an attorney to assist in determining what rights you might have following the diagnosis of as asbestos related disease.
After giving your notice, your employer can deny your claim. If a resolution can’t be reached, you can file an Application for Resolution of Claim to the state’s Education and Labor Cabinet. Most workers’ compensation claims are resolved by a settlement agreement between the parties and approved by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
If disagreements between you and your employer or ex-employer prevent an agreement, the dispute must be decided by an ALJ. Their decision can be appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Board. The Board’s decision can be appealed to the state’s Court of Appeals.
Get Help If You Have Been Diagnosed with Mesothelioma
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, focus on your medical care and quality of life while we focus on your legal rights. Depending on your situation, you may have a right to file for workers’ compensation benefits. To get help, contact us at Satterley & Kelley, PLLC today.