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  • Writer's pictureRachel Scott

Similarities and Differences: Injury vs. Occupational Disease

Updated: May 1, 2023

Workplace injuries and occupational diseases are both hazards that employees face in the course of their employment. While they may appear to be similar, there are differences that distinguish them from one another. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between injuries and occupational diseases, provide examples of each, and discuss the types of compensation available. Readers are encouraged to seek legal assistance from experienced employment attorneys such as Scott & Scott, PLLC, if they need further information and customization depending on their specific case.





Similarities

Injuries and occupational diseases share certain similarities. Both are caused by workplace conditions and can occur suddenly or over a long period. Both can result in disability or death and can cause pain, suffering, and financial loss. Moreover, employers are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment and providing necessary safety equipment for their employees (RCW 49.17.050). When employers fail to provide a safe environment, they can be held liable for both injuries and occupational diseases.


Differences

The main difference between injuries and occupational diseases is the way in which they occur. Injuries typically occur as a result of a specific event, such as a slip and fall, getting hit by a falling object, or suffering an electric shock. On the other hand, occupational diseases result from exposure to harmful substances or conditions over a period, such as asbestos exposure, repetitive motion injuries (from motions like frequent twisting, bending, or lifting), or carpal tunnel syndrome (RCW 51.08.140).


Injury Scenarios and Situations

Injuries can occur in a wide range of situations. The most common are slips, trips, and falls, which can happen on wet floors, uneven surfaces, or cluttered areas. Workers can also get injured by machinery, equipment, or tools, which may malfunction or be used improperly. Injuries can also result from transportation accidents, such as car crashes, or exposure to hazardous materials, such as chemicals, fumes, or radiation.


Example Scenario:

A worker on a construction site falls from a ladder while trying to fix a broken roof. The worker suffers a broken arm and leg and is unable to work for several weeks. The worker can file a workers' compensation claim to cover medical expenses and lost wages.


Occupational Disease Scenarios and Situations

Occupational diseases are caused by exposure to harmful substances or conditions in the workplace. These diseases can take years or even decades to develop, making it difficult for workers to connect their illnesses to their workplace. Examples of occupational diseases include mesothelioma, lung cancer, hearing loss, back and neck conditions related to stress on the body, and repetitive motion injuries.


Example Scenario:

A worker in a chemical plant is exposed to toxic chemicals, which lead to the development of lung cancer. The worker may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits to cover medical expenses, lost wages, and other related costs (RCW 51.32.187).


Compensation for Injuries

When a worker suffers an injury on the job, they are entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Workers' compensation is a system of insurance that provides benefits to employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses. The benefits may include medical expenses, lost wages, vocational rehabilitation, and disability payments. In most cases, workers' compensation is a no-fault system, which means that the injured worker does not have to prove fault on the part of the employer to receive benefits (RCW 51.32.010).


Exceptions to the No-Fault System

In some cases, however, the injured worker may have the right to sue the employer for damages. This may happen if the employer's intentional or grossly negligent actions caused the injury. The injured worker can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-economic losses. This is, however, only in the case of two exemptions to the Washington Industrial Insurance Act – RCW Title 51. The two exemptions to the rule of employer immunity are:

  1. Intentional Injury: When an employer has actual, certain knowledge that the injury would occur, or they willfully disregard that knowledge (RCW 51.24.020).

  2. Temporary Agency Employee: In the case of a temporary employee, things are a bit different. Since the temp agency is considered the employer of the worker, the factory that the worker is placed in could conceivably be sued for negligence on the job site. However, there are many legal nuances to this. Not every instance of injury to a temporary worker will result in a personal injury claim. It is important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney at Scott & Scott, PLLC if something like this has happened to you.

These exceptions are unusual, however. If your injury was caused by someone who was not employed by your employer, you may be able to sue for your injuries if someone else was negligent.


Compensation for Occupational Diseases

Workers who develop occupational diseases are also entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The benefits may include medical expenses, lost wages, and disability payments (RCW 51.08.140). However, proving that an illness is work-related can be challenging, especially if the disease takes years to develop. Workers may need to provide medical evidence, such as X-rays or other diagnostic tests, to support their claim. In some cases, the employer may dispute the claim, arguing that the disease was caused by other factors, such as smoking or pre-existing conditions.


In addition to workers' compensation, workers with occupational diseases may have the right to file a lawsuit against their employer or a third party. For example, workers who develop mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure may be able to sue the manufacturer of the asbestos-containing products or the employer who failed to provide adequate protective equipment.


Seeking Legal Assistance

Navigating the complex world of workers' compensation and occupational disease claims can be challenging for workers who are already dealing with the physical and emotional stress of an injury or illness. For this reason, it is advisable to seek legal assistance from experienced attorneys such as Scott & Scott, PLLC.


Scott & Scott, PLLC is a law firm that specializes in workers' compensation and personal injury claims. Our attorneys have extensive experience representing injured workers and their families and can provide personalized legal advice and guidance based on the specific circumstances of each case. We can help injured workers understand their rights and options under the law, negotiate with insurance companies and employers, and represent them in court if necessary.


Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation with Scott & Scott, PLLC

Injuries and occupational diseases are two types of workplace hazards that can have serious consequences for workers and their families. While they share some similarities, they differ in the way they occur and develop. Workers who suffer injuries or develop occupational diseases may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits, but navigating the complex legal system can be challenging. Seeking legal assistance from experienced attorneys such as Scott & Scott, PLLC can help injured workers understand their rights and options under the law and obtain the compensation they deserve. Call us today at (206) 622-2200.


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