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Something Smells Wrong in Recent Fume Exposure Claim

In Carter v. State of Illinois/Choate Mental Health Center, 18 ILWCLB 161, the Commission denied benefits to a claimant who alleged that her exposure to fumes while in the workplace deteriorated her mental and physical condition. The arbitrator found that the claimant failed to provide evidence that her exposure to commonly used products were due to a risk greater than the general public would experience. In this case, the claimant was exposed to numerous products commonly used by the general public, such as perfumes, aftershave, air freshener and other household items while at work. The claimant described the material she was exposed to as biomatic or bacterial cleaner. She initially testified that she had never experienced symptoms to such materials before. However, she later admitted she had similar symptoms five years earlier, for which she was treated, while working for a previous employer. The claimant’s treating doctor then testified that he could not specifically identify any substance that caused her reaction.

The arbitrator indicated the claimant did not establish a causal connection between her current condition and the alleged exposure occurring at work. The treating doctor failed to point to any substance within her employer’s facility that could have been the causative factor; and further, this was not the first time the claimant suffered from symptoms with exposure to everyday substances within the environment. The arbitrator relied on Weekley v. Industrial Commission, and concluded that even though the claimant had an uncommon reaction to these products, she failed to provide evidence that her exposure to products commonly used by the general public, were due to a risk greater than the general public would experience.

Bottom Line: An employee who claims an injury due to exposure to common or everyday fumes cannot rely on a idiosyncratic reaction to establish that she was exposed to an increased risk of harm.

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