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Workers' compensation benefits payable for inhalation of smoke

A workplace injury is the prerequisite for establishing the validity of workers' compensation claim for benefits. Such injury also includes diseases that can be shown to be causally related to the nature of the work. Usually a treating physician will have to testify that the injury or disease was caused by work conditions. In a state other than Massachusetts, a court recently held that a man who assisted with a rescue effort after an explosion in a mine at work was entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

A workers' compensation judge had ruled that the claim was invalid because it was only for emotional and psychiatric effects of the rescue effort. It held that he couldn't collect because the injury affected him mentally and not physically. The worker alleged he was exposed to hazardous dust and toxic gas during the rescue but the employer said his symptoms were preexisting and unrelated to a workplace injury.

The Supreme Court of West Virginia held that the judge erred in finding that this was not a physical injury. The Court pointed out that the claimant provided emergency room records from the date of the explosion, with a clinical impression of smoke inhalation and hypoxia. He also presented medical records showing that he continues to have shortness of breath, dizziness, difficulty sleeping and changes in emotional state.

Based on the foregoing findings by the Supreme Court, it's puzzling why the workers' compensation judge ruled it to be mental only. In Massachusetts and any other jurisdiction, presentation of emergency room records and medical records should generally be sufficient to establish that there's a traumatic injury or disease being treated for workers' compensation purposes. It's important always to inform the medical providers of the details of what happened at work so that causation is more easily and accurately recorded.

Source: The West Virginia Record, Court: Upper Big Branch worker entitled to Workers' Comp, John O'Brien, Sept 26, 2013

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