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Allergic workers awarded total disability
Latex allergy may be emerging as one of the higher-cost employee health risks in hospitals. A New Jersey plaintiff’s lawyer analyzed workers’ compensation adjudications for the past four years and found a trend of increasing disability awards.
"The financial cost is beginning to soar," says Jon L. Gelman, an attorney in Wayne, NJ, and author of the text Workers’ Compensation Law. "The trend lines are dramatic in the last four years. All these cases are starting to be adjudicated. That alone will be a wake-up call for hospitals to have a safer environment," Gelman predicts.
Gelman found 30 latex-related workers’ compensation cases in 13 states. In 21 (70%) of the cases, workers were granted compensation, at times including total and permanent disability.1
"The compensation benefits, remarkably, were extensive," says Gelman. "The benefits awarded to plaintiffs were the same type of benefits you would see awarded in catastrophic disease claims."
Gelman reported that cases seemed to be clustered in certain states, such as Wisconsin, New York, Texas, Virginia, and South Dakota.
"Both Wisconsin and New York have dramatically demonstrated that a claim for latex sensitivity is extremely serious in nature and is indeed compensable," he wrote in Update on the Law newsletter. "A significant percentage of the claims resulted in the awarding of total and permanent disability benefits to the claimant."
In a 1996 Wisconsin case, a nurse who wore latex surgical gloves and made frequent glove changes developed respiratory symptoms related to latex allergy. She asserted that she couldn’t obtain regular, continuous employment anywhere, and an administrative law judge agreed that she was permanently and totally disabled (McMillan v. County Milwaukee, 1996 WL 98882).
In Montana, a hospital nurse’s aide was hospitalized due to a severe allergic reaction to latex gloves. A workers’ compensation court declared her to be totally and permanently disabled and indicated the need for some housing adaptations to accommodate her allergy (Daniels v. Kalispell Regional Hospital, WL 109850). Many household products, including some types of carpeting, contain latex.
"Home modifications cost thousands and thousands of dollars," says Gelman. "You either modify a house or you have to find a new house for them."
1. Gelman JL. United States workers’ compensation programs are becoming sensitized to latex. Update on the Law 1999; 21.