Workers with documented chemical exposure may still be denied benefits for disability
The New York Times recently published a column addressing the gap between science, medicine and the law. It identified employees such as Ed Abney, who can identify a valid statistical, scientific basis for their medical problem, but who cannot meet tort "reform" standards that require proof of causation for a particular individual. This issue was less of a problem before product liability "reform" efforts lead to a series of decisions in some jurisdictions (including Michigan) holding that injury victims must establish a higher threshold of proof.
In Abney's case, he used a common industrial solvent [trichloroethylene] on a daily basis as a tool and die maker, before developing Parkinson's Disease at an early age. When the University of Kentucky tied exposure to the solvent to Parkinsonism, by comparing Abney's co-workers with a healthy control group, Abney thought he would be able to document the cause of his early health difficulties. Unfortunately, he was wrong: medical researchers documented the statistical relationship and "causation" with regard to the group of workers, but refused to confirm the cause for any one individual.
Many commentators have noted that where natural causes and environmental exposures at work act together to cause an illness, the employee should be compensated based on the risk inherent in the employees job. This is, obviously, a public policy decision, and of late conservative activists in the judiciary have decided this type of policy issue in favor of employers and insurers. In Michigan, workers compensation rules have been significantly tightened to limit claims, as have the rules for demonstrating causation in product and malpractice cases. Historically, if a wrongdoer was "a" cause of injury, compensation was payable, even if other circumstances played a role: today, our rules for compensating victims have become far more exclusive and harsher.