DETAILS MATTER PART 2: OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE/REPETITIVE STRESS CLAIMS
In Part 1 of “Details Matter,” we wrote about the importance of providing a clear and consistent description of an accident to the employer, the Workers’ Compensation Board, and the doctors. When the claim involves an “occupational disease” – a medical problem that develops over time because of the kind of work a person does – the details are even MORE important.
Unlike an accident, where “I slipped and fell and landed on my right hand” would be enough for a doctor to conclude that the fall caused a broken hand, an occupational disease claim requires much more information.
To succeed in a claim for an occupational disease, the worker must prove that the injury or illness was caused by a specific feature of their job. For instance, a worker who is claiming carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of typing must prove that (1) their job involved a substantial amount of typing over a long period of time; and (2) the amount of typing they did and the period of time they were doing that work was the cause of their medical problem.
The worker is obviously in a position to testify about their job duties and how long they have been doing that job. However, the opinion about the relationship between that work activity and the injury or illness must come from the worker’s treating doctor. This means that the doctor must ALSO be familiar with the details of the worker’s job, because without that information the doctor’s opinion may be rejected “mere speculation.”
For example, in one recent case the Board refused to establish a claim for repetitive-stress injuries to a worker’s hands because the worker’s doctor did not know what the worker did on a daily basis, how many times the activity was performed, or how many years the worker had been in that position.
It is therefore very important that workers with occupational disease claims provide their treating doctor with an especially detailed and thorough history of their job activities, including the length of time they have been in the job, whether they work part-time or full-time, the nature of the exposure or repetitive activity, and how many times or what percentage of the time it occurs in a typical work day, among other information.