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Occupational Illnesses and Workers' Compensation in Portland

Occupational Illnesses

When it comes to workplace injuries, some things are more straightforward, like falls and amputations. Other things, however, can be more complicated.

For instance, when you develop a disease as a result of your employment, it can be very difficult to prove that your job specifically caused that illness. It’s important to understand how Oregon’s workers’ compensation laws treat “occupational illnesses” and what it takes to prove that your illness is work-related. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you.

What is Occupational Illness?

Under Oregon law, there are a number of conditions and illnesses that could qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits:

  • The illness arose out of and in the course of employment
  • You were subjected to some hazard or substance to which a non-employee would not normally be exposed
  • The exposure caused a condition that requires medical care or causes death or disability

Examples may include:

  • A disease or infection you get from ingesting, inhaling, absorbing, or coming into contact with some sort of substance (includes fumes, vapor, gas, radiation, etc.)
  • A mental disorder that requires medical care or causes death or disability (any mental condition that is caused by or gets worse because of the job)
  • Traumatic events that require medical care or cause death or disability

Occupational and Work-Related Diseases in Portland

Now that you understand a little about what an occupational illness is, consider whether your condition is work-related. While sometimes this may seem very easy and clear, it can often prove quite difficult to demonstrate the connection.

First, you must prove that the “employment conditions” were at a minimum a significant or “major” cause of the disease. So, if you developed cancer after 30 years of heavy smoking but were also exposed to periodic carcinogens at work, you may have a hard time proving that the workplace conditions were a “major” contributing factor. Hence, each scenario will be unique.

Occupational Illness: What If the Job Made a Medical Condition Worse?

You can still be compensated for an illness or disease if you had the underlying condition prior to employment, but the job conditions made it worse. This is called “worsening of a preexisting condition.” Here is how this works.

Say you have a respiratory condition, but fumes or toxic chemicals in your workplace exacerbate the condition leading to severe or permanent disability, then you may still have a claim for aggravation or worsening of that preexisting condition.

Can My Mental Health Disorder Be Compensated?

Yes. But not always. Your mental health condition (disorder) will not be considered work-related unless you can prove each of the following:

  • The conditions at work that you believe caused your mental disorder must be shown to be objectively likely to cause a mental disorder.

In other words, it’s not whether you believe the job caused the condition; it’s whether an objective observer would reasonably conclude such a connection.

  • The workplace conditions are not typical or “inherent” in all situations or of the nature of the routine and reasonable discipline.

In other words, if you are simply disciplined in a normal way or lose your job or experience normal, routine conditions that are expected of other workers, you will probably not be able to relate the condition. There has to be more.

  • You have a mental disorder that is generally recognized in the medical or psychological community.

In other words, no “new age” or “cutting edge” diagnoses. Mainstream and accepted science are required.

  • You must prove the connection between mental disorder and your job to a level of clear and convincing evidence.

Courts have often explained this standard as more than what is required for a typical civil case (preponderance of the evidence) and less than what is needed for a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt). Clear and convincing means a strong and high probability. It is a very high standard. 

How Long Do You Have to File a Portland Workers’ Compensation Claim for an Occupational Illness?

1 year from discovery

You must file your claim within just 1 year of when you first learned about the existence of the occupational illness or within 1 year of the time when you should have discovered the occupational illness upon the “exercise of reasonable care.”

This means if you discover that you have a particular condition and believe it is related to your job, you need to act fast to file your claim. If you reasonably should have known about the condition, the clock starts ticking when you are put on notice to the likelihood of a connection.


For instance, say you develop a serious cough while working in a factory that uses a chemical with known respiratory irritants. Your cough gets so bad that you miss work, cough blood, and take over-the-counter medications to help with the condition.

After about 3 years of this, you finally see a physician who diagnoses you with a serious and permanent respiratory condition. Technically, you did not “know” about the condition until the doctor diagnosed you. Still, an insurance company or employer would likely argue that a reasonable person would get the cough checked out. Further, had you exercised reasonable care in getting to a doctor, you would have discovered the condition years earlier.

In a scenario like this, you may be held to 1 year from that earlier date (when the cough manifested itself), rather than the date on which you actually became directly aware of the condition.

1 year from date of death

If a person dies from an occupational illness, the deceased worker’s next of kin have just 1 year from the date of death to bring a claim, or, just as with any living claimant, the next of kin have 1 year from the date on which they reasonably should have learned about the illness upon exercising reasonable care.

Discuss Your Case with a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Portland Today

Throughout the State of Oregon, injured workers find it difficult to get compensated for their injuries, even when the facts seem extremely clear and straightforward. With decades of experience, both as an advocate and former member of the Workers’ Compensation Board, Jodie Anne Phillips Polich has the experience and compassion to help you and your family recover for your workplace injuries.

Don’t just wonder if you have a case; call the Law Office of Jodie Anne Phillips Polich, P.C. to set up a free, no-risk consultation today.