A worker exposed to benzene on the job sued his employer.

Occupational health and safety lawsuits have become a serious threat to many companies and workplaces that work with harmful chemicals and substances.

A recent lawsuit showed that in Louisiana, a worker can establish that chemical exposure caused an occupational disease by showing medical studies and internal memoranda from the employer noting a chemical exposure problem.

In the case Benoit v. Turner Industries Group, LLC, No. 10-1460 (La. Ct. App. 05/04/11), the Louisiana Court of Appeal held that a laborer was entitled to benefits for the leukemia he developed after being exposed to benzene at work.

A worker at an oil refinery was routinely exposed to chemicals, including benzene, while cleaning the sewers, ditches, and sump collection points in the processing units.

The laborer’s family members said he returned home from work in a greasy, grimy, and smelly state.

Health problems from chemical exposure

He frequently experienced headaches, dizziness, and vomiting after working.

The laborer subsequently developed acute myeloid leukemia and died.

His family sought workers’ compensation benefits, alleging he developed leukemia from the benzene exposure during his employment. The Louisiana Court of Appeal awarded the family indemnity benefits, penalties, and attorney’s fees.

An industrial hygienist opined that the laborer’s work duties exposed him to hazardous levels of benzene and that he likely inhaled the chemical and absorbed it through his skin.

The hygienist based his opinion on memoranda from the refinery regarding a benzene exposure problem at the facility. Based on medical records, internal memoranda, and scientific studies, a doctor opined that the benzene exposure was more likely than not the cause of the leukemia.

The court noted the employer used a “battle of the experts” argument. The employer’s expert said to establish causation, a physician had to know the rate and length of exposure to the chemical.

However, he could not definitively state the leukemia could not be caused by overexposure to benzene. The court found a causal link between the chemical exposure and the occupational disease.

The court said the employer had evidence to support the laborer’s claim and that it could have begun benefits or made an effort to reasonably controvert the claim. Instead, it did nothing. The refinery still took no action after having the hygienist’s and doctor’s reports, as well as internal documents.

Source: LRP Publications

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