Workers’ Compensation Rejected In Two Recent Meningitis Cases
The 1st District Court of Appeal recently rejected workers’ compensation insurance claims in two separate cases in which it was alleged that workers had developed meningitis after inhaling fungus while on the job.
Background of these cases:
- Indian River School District v. Cruce – In this case, an Indian River County school district groundskeeper died of cryptococcal meningitis in January 2015. His widow and dependent children pursued death benefits based on allegations that he had been exposed to cryptococcus fungus in pigeon feces while cleaning out a storage area months before his death. There was evidence presented that on several days during the time period when he was cleaning the area, the worker came home from work covered in a smelly white dust that was in his beard, nose, and on his lips.
- Titusville v. Taylor – The worker in this case was fortunate enough not to die from his alleged injuries from another type of fungus. In this case, a city of Titusville heavy-equipment operator contended he was exposed while working on a land-clearing project in a wooded area. He was diagnosed with fungal meningitis in August 2015 after having worked on the project for five months.
Judge of Compensation Claims Robert Dietz upheld workers’ compensation benefits for the deceased worker’s survivors and for the worker in Taylor in the separate cases, meaning all parties had obtained the benefits they sought. However, these decisions were subsequently reversed in two separate opinions by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal. Each of the rulings cited a “heightened standard of proof” that the Legislature put in state law for dealing with workers’ compensation claims about exposure to toxic substances. In both cases, the appeals court determined that the parties had not met that standard of proof.
In the first case, the court noted that cryptococcus fungus is found in many places in concluding that the claimants (Cruce’s survivors) had not proven occupational causation by clear and convincing evidence. However, the court also appeared to acknowledge in Taylor that this heightened standard of proof can be difficult to satisfy in these cases. Regardless, it declined to lower the burden of proof required because it did not want to overstep the statute.
Understand That This Doesn’t Change the Rights of an Injured Worker.
As acknowledged by the 1st District Court of Appeal, direct proof of the level of exposure to the toxic substance is simply not available in many toxic exposure cases. However, that doesn’t change the fact that workers who are injured during the scope of employment generally have the right to financial compensation. For this reason, even if your employer and its insurance company aren’t cooperating with your attempt to obtain benefits, don’t assume they are right. The best way to determine whether you are entitled to the benefits of workers’ compensation for your injuries is by reaching out to an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.
As the Miami workers’ compensation attorneys at Payer & Associates, we will explain the process for filing your claim and set realistic expectations for what happens afterward. We will fight to maximize any benefits you are entitled to while you get back to the business of healing. Contact us today so we can begin answering any questions you have about your legal rights after you experience what you suspect is a workplace injury.