Lawyers Discuss Workers Comp for Smoke Inhalation
Inhalation of toxic smoke is the primary cause of injury or death from any type of fire in the workplace. Smoke inhalation can result in immediate injury, such as burns (“thermal injury”) to the upper airway. However, smoke inhalation can also result in chronic and long-term injuries due to the toxicity of the exposure to gases.
If you received smoke related illness or injury of any kind, from any source, while at work or performing your work duties, you are entitled to workers compensation benefits. It does not matter what caused the fire or smoke that injured you at work. It also does not matter if you were partially “at fault” or if you or someone else’s carelessness caused the fire.
Obviously, firefighters are at a significantly higher risk of smoke inhalation injuries than most other types of workers. Typically, however, firefighters will qualify for compensation and benefits through their specific safety officer workers’ compensation program, such as CalPERS, CalSTRS, LACERA, or OCERS.
But smoke inhalation injuries are also common in other types of jobs, including those in the welding, manufacturing, agricultural, and oil & gas refinery industries. Even outdoor workers, such as landscapers, may be exposed to toxic, illness-causing smoke if they are required to work outside during air-quality conditions that have been compromised by California wildfires.
Again, it does not matter what type of work you do or how the smoke was caused – if you were injured at work by the smoke inhalation you are entitled to workers compensation benefits.
How Smoke Inhalation Damages the Lungs
Serious lung injury from exposure to smoke can be the result of exposure to heat, as well as to chemicals emitted during the fire, including: hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide (CO) and cyanide. These toxins cause cellular damage to the lungs.
Particulates from smoke inhalation such as soot can also be inhaled deep into the lungs, where the carbon causes direct lung to the cilia and alveolar surfaces. And aldehydes and acrolein can be released when wood burns. These are also highly toxic to lung tissue, causing protein destruction deep within the lungs.
One condition that smoke inhalation may cause or aggravate is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). This is an array of lung diseases in which airflow is blocked, affecting a person’s ability to breathe. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common types of COPD – both of which could be caused by (or aggravated by) smoke inhalation. Treatment advances in COPD are being made, but currently there is no cure – meaning that patients typically must undergo treatment for the rest of their lives. As a result, many individuals suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are unable to work – making them eligible for permanent disability benefits under workers compensation.
In addition to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), prolonged or severe exposure to smoke can result in other serious health issues, such as lung infections, and even lung cancer. When individuals are exposed to the toxic chemicals and carcinogens present in smoke, it can increase their risk of developing cancers such as lung cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, esophageal cancer, and even bladder and pancreas cancer. The harmful substances in smoke, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and formaldehyde, can damage DNA and lead to the mutations that trigger cancer development. While not everyone exposed to smoke will develop cancer, the risks are substantial,
Additionally, smoke inhalation can exacerbate preexisting conditions like asthma and cardiovascular diseases, making it particularly dangerous for individuals with underlying health concerns. Remember, under California law, you can generally collect workers’ compensation benefits if your working conditions aggravated a preexisting condition. The California workers’ compensation system provides benefits to workers who sustain injuries or illnesses arising out of and in the course of their employment, which includes situations where preexisting conditions are worsened or exacerbated by work-related factors.
Proving Smoke Inhalation Injury for Workers Comp
However, corrosive lung injury due to smoke inhalation may take hours, days or months. This can make “proving” that your lung disorder was caused by the smoke inhalation at work very difficult. Many workers compensation insurers, in an effort to save money may deny paying workers comp claims for lung injuries due to smoke inhalation.
They may claim that the COPD or other lung condition is due to other factors, such as smoking, heredity, exposure to toxins somewhere other than the workplace – or even blame it on preexisting medical conditions.
Symptoms of lung injury or disease in the upper respiratory caused by smoke inhalation include hoarseness, blistering, and upper airway mucosal lesions. However, injury in the lower respiratory tract may be harder to diagnose, and may include symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, rhonchi, fatigue, and difficulty or labored breathing (“dyspnea”). Doctors may need to use more specialized tests to diagnose chronic or long-term damage from smoke in halation, including: radiography, arterial blood gases, ECG, serial cardiac enzymes, direct laryngoscopy or fiber-optic bronchoscopy.
Experienced Long Beach Workers Comp Lawyers
This is why having an experienced, aggressive workers compensation lawyer by your side to fight for your rights is most important. If you need more recovery time than your workers compensation insurer is willing to pay for, our lawyers can fight to obtain temporary disability. If your lung damage is more serious, our lawyers can fight to help you qualify for a permanent partial or total disability.
Consulting with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer is especially important if your exposure to smoke aggravated a previous health condition – because the insurer will try to blame your inability to work on the condition rather than on the working conditions. A lawyer can help you navigate the process and ensure you receive the appropriate compensation for your aggravated preexisting condition.
Our experienced Long Beach workers compensation lawyers will help you obtain and submit all of the medical documentation necessary – in a timely manner and in the proper format – to ensure you receive the maximum workers compensation benefits you deserve.
Our Long Beach Workers Comp Lawyers Can Help
If you were injured or disabled by burns, smoke inhalation, or any other workplace illness or injury, our experienced Long Beach Workers Comp lawyers will offer you a free consultation. Our lawyers can explain the benefits to which you are entitled, and help ensure you receive the maximum Workers Comp benefits for which you qualify.
Long Beach Workers Comp Lawyers: 562-622-4800