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Lay Witness Testimony Can Support a Fatal Claim Petition for Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation

Pennsylvania workers’ compensation laws provide benefits to those who suffer injuries in the course and scope of employment.  Often, industrial accidents lead to physical injuries that are compensable.  The definition of “injury” is critical to an injured employee’s claim for benefits. Significantly, an “injury” under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act may manifest in different ways.  Physical injuries are one form of harm, but the Act provides compensation for mental harm, as well as suffering due to a disease.

According to Pennsylvania workers’ compensation laws, medical conditions stemming from diseases can be compensable when they are caused or aggravated at work.  After filing a workers’ compensation claim, injured employees may set forth testimony to support their argument that exposure to conditions at work caused the disease. In some cases, there need not be a more obvious proof of exposure. Witness testimony may be enough to support a petition for workers’ compensation benefits.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that the term “injury” includes “hurtful or damaging effect(s) which may be suffered by anyone.” In the case at hand, the issue was whether the widow of an employee who had allegedly been exposed to harmful chemicals at work could receive compensation following the death of her husband.  Her husband had worked as an electrician for his employer, at a plant, and had been diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer, eventually passing away.

Significantly, in this case, the widow had presented lay witness testimony in support of her argument that her husband’s cancer had been caused by work. Two coworkers of her husband testified that he had been exposed to substances known to cause cancer.  The claimant widow had also relied on the testimony of an oncologist who made clear that her husband’s bladder cancer had developed due to his exposure to the carcinogens.

In response, the workers‘ compensation insurer for the employer argued that there may have been carcinogens in the workplace, but exposure would not have occurred more recently.  The insurer relied on medical testimony, setting forth a doctor’s opinion that the deceased worker’s bladder cancer had not been affected by exposure at work.

When the workers’ compensation judge decided to grant the petition for benefits, they stated that the medical testimony of the claimant’s witness had been more credible than the insurer’s medical expert. On appeal, the court assessed whether the claimant had proven that her late husband had been exposed at work. First, the claimant stated that she noted her husband had returned from work with dyes and solvents on his clothing.  Additionally, his coworkers had testified that they saw him working around carcinogens.  The reviewing court affirmed the award of benefits.

At Needle Law, our dedicated workers’ compensation attorneys can help you seek the compensation that you need. Whether you have suffered an injury in an industrial accident, or you have been exposed to chemicals or hazards that have led to a disease, you have legal rights. To speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney, call our office today at 570-344-1266 or complete our online form.

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