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When Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Workplace Illnesses?Sicknesses have a way of spreading around the workplace, due to the close proximity of co-workers and difficulty in killing all of the germs that can contaminate common areas. Communicable diseases such as influenza are rarely a reason to file a workers’ compensation claim. It is difficult to attribute the illness to your work, and using sick days will cover most of the cost to you. However, there are more serious illnesses that could prevent you from working for weeks or months and require hospitalization and expensive care. For some workers, the threat of illness at their workplace allows them to claim workers’ compensation benefits.

Occupational Disease

A serious illness that you contract from work may be an occupational disease, which workers’ compensation insurance will cover. For instance, Legionnaires Disease comes from bacteria that may contaminate a workplace, and nasty viruses can spread from person-to-person. Most occupational diseases do not come from viruses or bacteria but from long-term exposure to hazardous conditions, such as:

  • Airborne contaminants
  • Radiation poisoning
  • Lead poisoning
  • Loud working conditions

These workplace hazards can cause chronic conditions, such as respiratory diseases and cancer. An illness from a virus or bacteria can also cause permanent damage if the symptoms are severe.

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New Illinois Law Would Allow Latent Injury Claims Past Statute of ReposeThe Illinois General Assembly has passed legislation that extends the opportunity to receive compensation when people suffer from work-related occupational diseases. If signed by the governor, the law would allow plaintiffs to file civil lawsuits against employers if the statute of repose for workers’ compensation has expired. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that workers’ compensation was the only recourse for people seeking compensation for occupational diseases and that the 25-year statute of repose is a strict time limit for when a plaintiff must file a claim. The new law would effectively circumvent that ruling.

Occupational Diseases

Unlike most workplace injuries, an occupational disease develops from long-term exposure to a contaminant and not from a specific event. Common causes of occupational diseases include:

  • Exposure to radioactive materials; and
  • Inhalation of harmful substances, such as asbestos.

The period of repose is the length of time after the worker’s last known contact with the contaminant that a plaintiff has to file a workers’ compensation claim. Depending on the cause of the occupational disease, the statute of repose could be as little as two years or as long as 25 years. However, it can take years to decades for a worker to become aware of an occupational disease, such as cancer or respiratory diseases.

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