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Workers' Compensation

MO: Toxic Exposure From Fumes Hanging In Air

Claimant worked 10 years in Jasper County making components for battery cells and developed a rare cancer, IgA myeloma. As a result of either the condition or the stem cell transplant and chemotherapy, he required treatment for about 5 years for kidney disease, recurrent skin basal cell carcinomas, carpal and cubital tunnel releases, and foot orthotics. Claimant, 57, continues to have dizziness, fatigue, and cannot walk normally.

Neither party obtained air samples or precise information regarding the duration or dosage of any exposure of benzene or other chemicals. Claimant's expert attributed the onset to "airborne chemicals" and several co-workers testified to ineffective safety practices regarding the absence of respirators, poor ventilation systems and fumes that "hung in the air." Claimant alleges he was exposed to benzene or benzene-related products in the glue used in plastics and raw rubber. The employer disputed exposure, but lost many of its records in a fire.

The Commission found claimant established causation with reasonable probability. Evidence on medical causation in worker's compensation cases does not have to comply with the Frye standard but must only be admissible based on §490.065. The opinion provides extensive findings regarding the disease and the conflicting medical research from national experts Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Borak. The Commission concluded that work place exposure caused the disease, the exposure was greater than the general public, and there were distinctive features of his job causing the exposure (working around open vats). The ALJ noted that a co-worker had died from a similar condition.

The employer was ordered to pay permanent and total disability benefits and $752,021.08 in unpaid medical bills and a 15% penalty for safety violations. The case is Moreland v Eagle Pitcher Technologies, DOLIR 10-20-11, 2011 MOWCLR LEXIS 210.

Source: Martin Klug, Huck, Howe & Tobin. Read Martin Klug's Mo. Workers' Comp Alerts.

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