If you've recently been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), emphysema, mesothelioma, or another lingering ailment caused by long-term workplace exposure to toxins, you may be struggling with conflicting emotions, as well as wondering how to proceed. How can you help pay any medical expenses incurred as a result of your illness? Should you sue your employer? How can you cope with the anger you feel after realizing that your job has made you sick? Read on to learn more about this area of personal injury law.
What is an "industrial disease"?
Industrial diseases are a certain category of illnesses that result from occupational exposure to toxins or carcinogens. These are generally respiratory illnesses, but can also include several types of cancers caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. Some common industrial diseases include the following:
- Mesothelioma -- a type of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
- COPD -- lung inflammation that can be caused by exposure to smoke, diesel fumes, and caustic chemicals.
- Siderosis -- often called "welder's lung," this is caused by the inhalation of dust produced by the welding process.
- Bladder cancer -- working in a manufacturing facility that produces rubber can significantly increase your odds of contracting bladder cancer.
Although not all cases of mesothelioma and similar disease are work-related, because these illnesses are caused by frequent and long-term exposure to certain materials, they are most often diagnosed in those who work with these materials on a daily basis.
What should you do if you've been diagnosed with one of these illnesses?
Although a diagnosis like this can rock your world, there are a few things you can do to assert your rights and safeguard your future.
First, you should contact a firm like Law Office Of Daniel E Goodman to consult with a personal injury attorney-- particularly an attorney who has specific experience in industrial disease law. Your attorney will be able to evaluate the strength and merits of your claim and advise you how to proceed.
Because personal injury law is governed by a statute of limitations, the sooner you file a lawsuit, the better. In Illinois, you have only two years from the time you discover your illness to sue your employer (or one year if your employer is a city or county government). If you wait too long to file a lawsuit, you may be prohibited from seeking any compensation for your injuries.
Next, you should gather any and all evidence you might have about your workplace exposure to toxins and other harmful substances. For example, if you were diagnosed with mesothelioma after several decades of working as a contractor, you might want to compile any information you have about the various work sites you visited over the years, as well as any information provided by your employer about workplace safety and personal protective equipment (PPE).
In many cases, your employer's liability for your illness will hinge on its action (or inaction) of letting employees know of the dangers of workplace exposure to certain substances and how to protect themselves, as well as its provision of PPE to employees and strict enforcement of safety standards.
Should you join a class action lawsuit?
In the majority of industrial disease cases, there is more than one victim -- and often, the number of individuals made ill by exposure to harmful materials in one specific workplace can be in the hundreds or thousands. In these cases, an attorney may choose to file a class action lawsuit against the employer to help compensate all employees at once. This helps avoid duplication of efforts and confusion for the courts as multiple litigants sue a single employer.
You may choose to opt in or opt out of a class action lawsuit. There are a few advantages and disadvantages to each choice.
If you choose to become part of a class action lawsuit, you will enjoy lower legal fees and a more streamlined, organized process. In many cases, a class action lawsuit is decided or settled much more quickly than an individual lawsuit. However, all members of the class will need to agree on a settlement amount, which can be a difficult process (particularly for a very large class).
If you choose to exempt yourself from the class action lawsuit, you'll have more control over the legal outcome of your case, but will be solely responsible for any fees incurred, and the process may be longer.