Mechanic's evidence connects benzene exposure to his leukemia
Casdorph v. West Virginia Office Insurance Commissioner and West Virginia State Police, No. 34473 (W.Va. 11/19/09).
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a decision of the workers' compensation board of review, holding that the worker's occupational disease was a result of his employment and was a compensable condition.
What it means:
In West Virginia, a worker can show a causal link between an occupational disease and his employment if: 1) studies and research clearly link a specific disease to a particular workplace hazard; and 2) he can show he was exposed to the hazard and is suffering from the disease to which it is connected.
Summary: A police auto mechanic was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. He filed a workers' compensation claim alleging his disease was due to his daily exposure to workplace benzene. He died while his case was on appeal after being denied. The Supreme Court of Appeals concluded that the mechanic's medical literature and expert and witness testimony sufficiently established a causal link between the mechanic's benzene exposure and his disease. It determined his leukemia was a natural result of his benzene exposure at work and that the proximate cause could fairly be traced to his employment. The court also explained that his disease did not come from a hazard to which he would have been equally exposed but for his employment. It held that the board of review's order was "so clearly wrong based on the evidentiary record" that there was insufficient support to sustain its decision. It reversed the board, and sent the case back for a finding of compensability.
The employer argued that the case studies and other literature the mechanic presented showing a connection between benzene exposure and his type of leukemia were not medically significant enough to be valid. It also argued that scientific theories must be "generally accepted within the scientific community" to hold weight in court. The court rejected the employer's arguments that the studies held little weight, finding the general rules of evidence and procedure do not strictly apply in workers' compensation claims.
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January 14, 2010
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