Aggravation of COPD through one-time chemical exposure yields PPD benefits
Case name: Ritescreen, Inc. v. Campbell, No. E2007-01441-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. Work. Comp. 10/06/08).
What it means: An employee's single exposure to chemicals in the workplace may generate PPD benefits when credible medical evidence establishes that the exposure aggravated preexisting COPD, caused the employee to become symptomatic, and prevented him from returning to his previous job.
A maintenance mechanic's preexisting COPD worsened after he was sprayed in the face with a disinfectant by two coworkers. His symptoms began with coughing, but when he experienced trouble breathing, he visited the emergency room and was hospitalized for approximately two weeks. Although the mechanic had been a smoker for over 30 years, a pulmonary specialist opined that the chemical exposure had injured him by causing his COPD to worsen. The panel upheld the trial court's PPD award based on a 65 percent disability, concluding that "an employer takes an employee as they [sic] find him and is liable under the Workers' Compensation Act for disabilities which are the result of the aggravation of the pre-existing weakness, condition or disease brought on by the occupation."
The panel highlighted the fact that the mechanic's symptoms began shortly after his exposure to the disinfectant, and that he was unable to return to work because his physician restricted his exposure to dust and fumes. Further, although the pulmonary specialist based his opinion on the mistaken belief that the mechanic had stopped smoking years before he actually did, the panel noted that the specialist did not "recant his opinion when provided with correct information."
November 4, 2008
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