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What does it mean to have an occupational disease?

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2023 | Workers' Compensation

You may have heard the term “occupational disease” if you’re in a line of work where certain medical conditions are not uncommon. Under Minnesota law, an occupational disease can be either a physical or mental condition “arising out of and in the course of employment peculiar to the occupation in which the employee is engaged and due to causes in excess of the hazards ordinary of employment….”

For example, for firefighters, certain types of cancer are considered occupational diseases. For law enforcement officers, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is considered an occupational disease.

If someone is diagnosed with an occupational disease for their line of work, that means they’re entitled to a presumption that the condition is a work-related one and, therefore, that they qualify to receive workers’ compensation benefits. That doesn’t mean, however, that workers’ compensation insurers can’t challenge an employee’s diagnosis.

Minnesota Supreme Court upholds a PTSD diagnosis after a challenge

Recently, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a Carlton County sheriff’s deputy is entitled to workers’ comp benefits for his PTSD. The deputy was diagnosed with PTSD as well as other mental disorders in 2019 after his partner took his own life. He had also witnessed some fatal incidents during his career. The psychologist who diagnosed him said that he was no longer able to work.

The workers’ comp insurer had the deputy see another mental health professional, who said that he had a major depressive disorder unrelated to his work, but not PTSD. A workers’ comp judge denied his benefits, saying that the second diagnosis was “more persuasive.”

The case made its way to the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals, which disagreed with the judge. It finally made it to the state’s high court. That court supported the appellate court decision, saying that the first diagnosis of PTSD was sufficient. It noted, “Nothing in the statute suggests that a compensation judge needs to specifically determine that an employee’s PTSD diagnosis is more credible than any competing diagnoses before the presumption applies,”

Certainly, most workers’ comp disputes don’t make it to the Minnesota Supreme Court or even to an appeals court. However, it’s important to know what the law states and that workers’ comp insurers don’t always abide by the law – particularly when it means paying someone long-term benefits. 

That’s why it may be wise to seek legal guidance if you believe that your claim was wrongfully denied. This can help you protect your rights and your financial future.

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