During parts of the twentieth century, the American construction industry used asbestos extensively throughout commercial and residential properties. Since then, researchers have shown that asbestos exposure can cause life-threatening illnesses and disabilities, leading to a deluge of claims for workers' compensation. Thousands of Americans fall prey to asbestos-related injuries every year, but it's often difficult to successfully file a workers' compensation claim. Learn more about some of the issues that make it hard to win these complex cases.
The scale of the issue
According to the American Cancer Society, doctors diagnose around 3,000 new cases of malignant mesothelioma every year. Asbestos exposure can also lead to other serious illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer and respiratory problems, so workplace compensation insurers face costs that could run into millions of dollars.
On this basis, it's unsurprising that insurance companies take time to investigate every claim in absolute detail. The settlement you receive depends on the evidence you provide about the impact the condition has on your life, and an insurer will often ask for extensive information. Compensation laws place limits on the amount payable, based on the type of injury. In some cases, an insurer will debate the extent of the injury for some time, often delaying your claim.
Your type of employment
Workers' compensation laws vary across states, and the protection that the legislation offers differs for certain employees. For example, in Iowa, independent contractors, limited liability company members and partners do not automatically receive workers' compensation rights and may need to buy their own cover. Similarly, in Missouri, companies with fewer than five employees do not have to take out this insurance.
A claim can become complicated, particularly if you switch employers or employment status over time. You may need to file separate claims. You may also need to prove that you suffered the asbestos injury at a certain time before an insurer will accept liability.
The time it takes to diagnose asbestos-related illnesses
In most cases, people with asbestos-related illnesses do not experience any symptoms for many years after exposure to the harmful material. It's not unusual to lead a relatively normal, healthy life for ten or twenty years after exposure. Unfortunately, workers' compensation laws generally include a time limit, after which you cannot normally file a claim.
Laws vary across states, but if you contract mesothelioma, it's often too late to file compensation by the time you first notice the symptoms. Even if you can file a claim, the compensation you receive is often not enough, because you have to base the claim on your salary when you first incurred the injury. These issues often lead to lengthy claims negotiations and less-than-satisfactory outcomes for workers.
The difficulty you can have proving the cause of your illness
Many occupations were once at higher risk of exposure to asbestos. High-risk professions included:
- Construction workers
- Navy personnel
- Steel workers
It's often easy to pinpoint multiple sources of asbestos exposure, but it's harder to prove what caused a specific illness. For example, plumbers and steel workers may have changed employer several times, suffering asbestos exposure in each job. On this basis, how can you prove where you first contracted the disease that would later make you ill?
Given the relative cost of claims, insurers and employers will often challenge any lack of evidence that links your illness to a particular job. In many cases, injured employees have to turn to government disability programs because they simply cannot prove a strong enough case to an insurer.
Your employer may no longer exist
If it takes 20 years for you to see the symptoms of asbestos exposure, it's easy to believe that your employer may actually have ceased trading or gone bankrupt in this time. Similarly, the employer's insurance company may no longer exist. In this instance, what happens to your claim?
In most states, the state department of insurance will take over your claim. Insurance guaranty associations exist to look after policyholders' claims when an employer or insurance company becomes insolvent. Unfortunately, these associations often exclude certain businesses or organizations, which could leave legal action as your only possible recourse.
Workers' compensation laws aim to protect employees who suffer injuries at work. Unfortunately, insurance claims for asbestos injuries are often lengthy and complex, so it's always a good idea to enlist the help of an experienced workers' compensation attorney to help you fight your case. For more information, contact a local law firm like The Law Offices of Gregg Durlofsky.