Throughout the world, people face many hazards through their daily work. Many of these hazards go unnoticed until it’s too late, like asbestos exposure. The World Health Organization estimates that 125 million people are exposed to asbestos through their occupations each year.
Asbestos exposure can cause several serious health problems, including mesothelioma and asbestosis. There is a long latency period after exposure, so it can take decades before victims even start to notice symptoms. Not only do patients diagnosed with these diseases face a typically poor prognosis, but also high treatment costs that can create a financial burden.
For those who faced exposure through their work and are later diagnosed, workers’ compensation is one option available to help alleviate the financial strain.
How Workers’ Compensation Works
Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that assists with replacing lost wages and helping to pay for medical treatment for employees injured at work. In some instances, this compensation can also be received by surviving family members if the worker dies as a result of his/her injuries.
This type of compensation is administered by a state system, and every state has slightly different regulations, like its statute of limitations. The state’s governing board in their workers’ compensation division will review each claim and determine eligibility for wage replacements and medical benefits. To learn more about your own state’s policies, you will need to visit the appropriate division of their department of labor. In general, each state has a fixed maximum compensation amount paid based on the type of claim being made, which can be paid as a lump sum or in weekly installments.
Employers are required to pay for this insurance, which can be attained through a state fund or private insurance companies. For example, the Montana State Fund, a nonprofit corporation, provides the most coverage in their state. This provider covers over 26,000 businesses, including small businesses that would struggle to be insured elsewhere.
Montana has had a rocky past with workers’ compensation, and at one point faced an unfunded liability of over $500 million. Montana legislatures thus created an Old Fund for claims prior to July 1990, with other claims becoming the responsibility of the Montana State Fund.
This Old Fund still has hundreds of open claims and continues to accept more, mostly from asbestos victims in Libby, Montana. Now, legislators are looking at making changes to the system to privatize or essentially end the Montana State Fund, once again putting these claims in jeopardy.
Other states have made some provisions that will help workers diagnosed with mesothelioma. Missouri updated its workers’ compensation laws a few years ago to better handle claims for those with occupational diseases, especially those exposed to toxins like asbestos.
Missouri created a new provision specifically for mesothelioma patients, which allows for enhanced benefits. Employers can either pay into the newly made Missouri Mesothelioma Risk Management Fund or accept the liability through their current insurance. Either option will allow for payment of up to $500,000 for the affected worker and their loved ones.
Federal Workers’ Compensation
The federal government offers its own workers’ compensation program for federal employees. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, or OWCP, administers four main programs, like wage replacement and medical benefits, as well as specialty programs for specific groups of employees.
For workers diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, their claim will have to detail the type of asbestos they were exposed to, what kind of work they were performing and where, how often they were exposed, and the safety measures taken. Claimants will also need medical evidence, including their diagnosis and course of treatment.
With workers’ compensation comes a compromise. The nature of this claim is not to determine where the fault lies, and generally makes the employer immune from liability. Pursuing this type of claim means forfeiting the right to sue an employer for punitive damages or negligence.
For an asbestos victim, that would also mean the inability to pursue a lawsuit against an employer for the pain and suffering that accompanies such a diagnosis. Even with workers’ compensation, however, a claimant can still take legal action against the asbestos manufacturer with a third party claim. Compensation may be available through these lawsuits and asbestos trust funds.
A mesothelioma diagnosis comes with a lot of uncertainty, including how to handle the high treatment costs. For asbestos victims, there are different methods to receive financial help, and it’s important to be aware of your legal rights and understand the best option for your own individual case.