Understand the causes, symptoms and how to get help in Georgia
Silicosis is the most common occupational lung disease worldwide. It’s a type of pulmonary fibrosis caused by long-term inhalation of silica, a mineral commonly found in rocks and soil.
What causes silicosis and pulmonary fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is the inflammation and scarring of the upper lobes of the lungs. The causes of pulmonary fibrosis are often numerous and difficult to identify. In those cases, the disease is referred to as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
However, there is a direct link between silicosis and long-term exposure to silica-saturated air.
Causes of occupational silicosis
Silicosis is an occupational hazard to workers wherever silica dust is present. Workers most at risk of silica exposure include:
- Foundry workers
- Stone cutters
- Oil and gas workers
- Glass cutting and manufacturing workers
Serious silicosis usually requires long-term and high levels of exposure to silica dust.
Symptoms of silicosis
While silicosis is not cancerous, silicosis and other forms of pulmonary fibrosis can be debilitating. Symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Cyanosis (bluish skin)
It can also lead to:
- Chest pain
- Rifts in fingernails
- Weight loss
Numerous additional lung ailments can also develop as a result of silicosis.
Is occupational silicosis covered under workers’ compensation?
However, like any other workers’ compensation claim, in order to qualify for compensation, silicosis must be incurred on the job. This raises several questions:
Who has the burden to prove the connection? Must the job be the sole cause of silicosis?
The fact that workers’ compensation is a no-fault system does not eliminate the issue of whether the silicosis was job-related. To be eligible for workers’ comp, your silicosis has to meet the criteria for an occupational disease as defined by Georgia law.
O.C.G.A. §34-9-280 defines it as follows:
(2) “Occupational disease” means those diseases which arise out of and in the course of the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease, provided the employee or the employee’s dependents first prove to the satisfaction of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation all of the following:
(A) A direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work is performed and the disease;
(B) That the disease followed as a natural incident of exposure by reason of the employment;
(C) That the disease is not of a character to which the employee may have had substantial exposure outside of the employment;
(D) That the disease is not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed;
(E) That the disease must appear to have had its origin in a risk connected with the employment and to have flowed from that source as a natural consequence.
An employee making a workers’ compensation claim for silicosis has the burden of proof, of which there are 2 main steps. The first step is to show that the silicosis fits within the general concept of an occupational disease, which is generally understood. The second step is to show that your occupational silicosis didn’t also have an origin unrelated to your job.
It’s well known that the causes of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis are not identified. This suggests that silicosis can have multiple causes, which are often unknown. Since serious silicosis develops over a long period of time from heavy doses of silica dust, it’s arguable there could be multiple contributing causes to a person’s silicosis diagnosis in addition to occupational hazards.
Don’t be deterred—seek legal counsel
The burden of proof challenges shouldn’t deter you from pursuing a workers’ compensation claim for silicosis. Often, silicosis can be inextricably linked by evidence to your workplace environment.
You must seek the advice of an experienced lawyer to counsel you about your choice of remedies. The first issue for consideration is whether to seek compensation under the workers’ compensation system or by another avenue such as a personal injury claim, product liability claim or wrongful death claim.
Workers’ compensation claims usually have the advantage of the no-fault system. The employee doesn’t have to prove that the employer was at fault. However, Georgia’s stringent burden of proof for occupational diseases somewhat limits that advantage.
Also, workers’ compensation does not allow for compensation for pain and suffering, which can be pursued under a personal injury claim. Moreover, workers’ compensation doesn’t provide for negligence claims against third parties, whereas a personal injury action, product liability or wrongful claim is not as limited.
When you file a claim, your employer’s or other defendant’s insurance company will be represented by experienced lawyers. Their sole responsibility is to minimize financial exposure to their client. Your welfare is secondary. Only an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can give you the legal advice you need to make an informed and educated decision.