Friday, December 14, 2018

Published:09/30/2014

Smith worked as a laboratory technologist from 1969 until 2006 for Capitol Region, in which position he withdrew blood from patients and daily worked with blood products. Smith was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1991, and filed a workers’ compensation claim based on his contracting hepatitis as an occupational disease. Smith worked for Capitol Region both prior to and after the implementation of certain safety measures that did not become standard in the industry. On numerous occasions, he would get blood on his hands, blood splattered in his face, blood in his mouth, and needle sticks and other cuts. Other than his job, Smith did not engage in any other activities that would have exposed him to blood or other bodily fluids, like tattoos or drugs, except that in 1970 he sustained a gunshot wound while hunting and had a few blood transfusions.

The issue before the Court was whether the claimant had sufficiently established that Smith’s occupation caused the disease. The commission determined that because there had been no evidence that any of the blood Smith was exposed to as part of his employment contained hepatitis C, Smith had not present sufficient evidence to establish his disease as an occupational one. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded.

To establish a disease as an occupational disease, an employee must show that there is a medical link between the disease and the some distinctive feature of the job that is common to all jobs of that sort. The workers’ compensation statutes do not require that the claimant establish by a medical certainty that the disease was caused by the job. A claimant just needs to establish that there is a probability that the working conditions caused the disease.

Here, the Commission found that Smith had not satisfied his burden to prove that he probably contracted hepatitis C from his occupation because he could not submit any evidence of a specific exposure to the disease during his employment. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed. Smith’s medical expert stated in his testimony that it is more likely than not that Smith acquired his infection with hepatitis C due to his job with Capitol Region because people who worked jobs like Smith’s during the time that Smith worked had a high likelihood of being exposed to hepatitis C. Because Smith’s only other known, possible exposure to the disease, the blood transfusion, happened too long before the onset of his symptoms, the medical expert found it probable that Smith contracted hepatitis from his position with Capitol Region.

The Court of Appeals found that this testimony was sufficient to satisfy the requirements for finding that a disease was compensable under the workers’ compensation statutes. Therefore, the Court remanded the case to the commission for reconsideration.