Vocational rehabilitation may be available to you as an injured worker if you are not able to return to the job you were doing before the work accident. However, the Workers’ Compensation Act does not require the employer to pay for this additional treatment. The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation [(317) 232-1319] can assist you with questions regarding this process.
According to Indiana law, as stated in the Guide to Indiana Workers’ Compensation, one may reopen a claim for the following reasons:
To reopen a claim due to any change in condition, directly related to the original injury, an Application for Adjustment of Claim (Form 29109) must be filed with the Workers’ Compensation Board within 2 years from the last date for which you were paid compensation. Compensation includes temporary disability income, a permanent partial impairment award, and permanent total disability income. It does not include the last date a medical expense was paid. Determining the precise date that compensation was last paid can be confusing, and an attorney should be consulted to assist in reopening a case.
Please note that there are time when a case cannot be reopened because of the type of settlement that was agreed upon. For instance, if you signed a Section 15 Settlement Agreement– a full and final settlement agreement– when you originally settled your claim, then you may not be able to reopen your case.
According to the Guide to Indiana Worker’s Compensation Benefits, the following must apply in order for a worker exposed to asbestos on the job to be eligible for benefits through the Residual Asbestos Injury Fund:
The Indiana Occupational Diseases Act defines disablement by an occupational disease as:
…becoming disabled from earning full wages at the work in which the employee was engaged when last exposed to the hazards of the occupational disease by the employer from whom he claims compensation or equal wages in other suitable employment…Indiana Code §223-7-9(e).
In short, disablement means a worker is unable to earn full wages due to an occupational disease.
Understanding the Law
The Indiana Occupational Diseases Act provides that a worker with an occupational disease may not receive benefits unless the occupational disease causes disablement within 2 years from the last date of exposure to the harmful chemical or substance. Thereafter, an injured worker has 2 years from the date of disablement to file an Application for Adjustment of Claim (Form 29109) with the Worker’s Compensation Board of Indiana.
For occupational diseases that result in death, the worker’s dependents may be eligible for benefits if the death occurs no more than 2 years after disablement and if the dependents file an AAC (Form 29109) with the Board within 2 years after the date of death.
With regard to radiation exposure, a worker must file an AAC with the Board within 2 years from the date the worker had knowledge or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known of the existence of the injury and its causal link to his or her place of employment.
As for asbestos inhalation injuries, the law sets the following time limits based on the date of last exposure:
As you can see, all of these time limitations regarding Indiana occupational diseases can be very tricky. If there is a question as to whether you can still file an Application for Adjustment of Claim, you may want to consult with an Ombudsman or a qualified Indiana worker’s compensation attorney.
Similar to the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Act, the Indiana Occupational Diseases Act provides benefits to workers who suffer disablement by occupational disease arising out of and in the course of employment. The Worker’s Compensation Board of Indiana presides over these cases as well.
Burden of Proof on the Injured Worker
Like worker’s compensation claims, the burden of proof is on the injured worker to prove that exposure to harmful substances at work led to the occupational disease that caused disablement.
In other words, a clear connection needs to be made to show that the disease arose directly out of and in the course of the injured worker’s employment rather than through some other means. This connection is sometimes more difficult to establish in occupational disease cases because of the possibility that the employee was exposed to similar disease-causing agents outside of his or her work environment.
Tom began having some breathing problems and went to see his family doctor. The doctor discovered that Tom had cancerous lumps on his lungs. Tom has worked around a lot of different chemicals during his 30 years in the factory, some of which are known to be cancer-causing agents. However, he has also bowled in a league every week for the last 20 years, and when at the bowling alley, he is around a lot of secondhand smoke.
Although many other details are needed in order to determine the direct cause of Tom’s cancer, this example shows how questions can easily arise concerning the direct cause of an illness due to exposure.
Proving Causation in Your Claim
The following points must be proven in any claim dealing with the causation of an occupational disease:
Doctors specialized in the areas will likely be called upon to answer these questions.