Asbestos and Workers’ Compensation Law

The lawyers at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton believe all available remedies for serious injury should be considered together. If they are not, a settlement of one claim can look like a lot of money, but turn out to be much less than could have been recovered with a coordinated approach. Our clients and their families are people, not cases. People need whole solutions to whole problems. Big verdicts and settlements are often important parts of solutions, but coordinated handling of all claims produces the greatest benefits for our clients.

Frequently Asked Questions

Exposure to asbestos can cause deadly and debilitating disease. It can also cause confusion over the legal remedies available for workers or consumers.

  • “Do I have a workers’ compensation claim?”
  • “Should I file for Social Security?”
  • “What about my union disability pension?”
  • “Is the manufacturer of asbestos products liable for my injury?”
  • “Will my recovery of one benefit reduce my recovery of another?”

Q: I haven’t worked with asbestos for twenty years. Do I still have a workers’ compensation claim?

A: Yes, you may still have a workers’ compensation claim. There are several different time limits, but the most important thing is to file a workers’ compensation claim as soon as you think you are suffering from an asbestos-related disease. Every claim will require reconstructing your work history, but if you have been exposed to asbestos at several employers, you do not have to prove which employment exposure caused your disease. When a worker proves that an occupational disease was caused by one of several employments, the last employment that might have caused the disease is responsible for providing workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation benefits can be significant including payment of all medical bills, tax-free wage loss, payment for permanent disability, job training, and lifetime widow’s benefits. For more information on workers’ compensation, click here.

Q: Do I have a claim against the manufacturer of the asbestos products that caused my disease even if I as exposed long ago?

A: Yes, you may have a claim even if you were exposed many years ago. Most lawsuits for injuries must be brought within 8 to 10 years of exposure to the product that caused the injury. But Oregon law provides asbestos victims with special timing rules because exposures thirty years ago and longer frequently cause asbestos disease. Asbestos claims must be filed within two years from the date your doctor tells you that you have asbestos-related disease. Almost every case involves reconstructing your history of working with asbestos, and to pinpoint which companies made and sold the asbestos products that caused the disease. It is very important to act promptly in order to preserve your legal rights if you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition because the two year legal clock begins running when you knew or should have known that your condition was caused by asbestos exposure.

Q: What if I was injured by exposure to asbestos in my home? Do I have a claim if I never worked with asbestos? What kind of products should I worry about?

A: Many exposures to asbestos occurred at home, not at work. Clothes laundered from work in an asbestos-containing environment, or building materials like asbestos-containing “popcorn” acoustic ceiling spray, have caused exposures that decades later result in asbestos disease. Sometimes a location such as a school or office building can cause an exposure from demolition or damage to old steam pipes or insulation. Generally speaking, asbestos was used extensively until the mid to late 1970s. If you have an asbestos disease and don’t know how you were exposed, you should immediately investigate making a claim, or risk being time barred by the two year statute of limitations.

Q: Should I file a claim for social security benefits?

A: You should file a claim for social security benefits if you can’t work and it looks as if you won’t be able to work for a number of months. Most disease caused by asbestos gets worse with time rather than better. The legal requirement is that you be unable to work for 12 months, but if you are off work now because of asbestos-related disease, there is a significant chance you won’t get back to work in the next year. When in doubt, file a claim. There can be long delays in the social security system, and you can always withdraw your claim later if your condition improves. If your claim is denied, don’t give up; most social security claims are denied at first. For more information on the legal rules for social security, click here.

Q: Do I qualify for disability benefits under my union pension plan?

A: Many industrial union contracts provide disability benefits to workers who can no longer do their regular work. Whether you qualify, for how long, and for what benefits depend on the language in the contract. You should ask your shop steward or business agent for a copy of the contract and any application forms you need to fill out to qualify.

Q: How do these claims work together? Can I get all of the benefits at the same time, or do they offset each other?

A:That’s a complicated question with a lot of answers. Here are some of them:

Social Security and workers’ compensation may offset each other. If you get both, the total amount you receive may be less than the two together. Your lawyer can put important language in a workers’ compensation settlement agreement to increase your total benefits.

If you make a successful workers’ compensation claim for asbestos disease and recover against the manufacturer of asbestos products, some or all of the amount you get from workers’ compensation is likely to be paid back to the workers’ compensation insurer out of your recovery against the manufacturer. (Note that if this happens, any social security benefits you may have lost because of your workers’ compensation claim should be refunded to you. Is that confusing enough?)

Some union pension benefits are reduced if you also get social security or workers’ compensation, but there is not usually any reduction if you receive money from a claim against an asbestos manufacturer. Whether, and how much, any of these reductions will happen depends on the language in the union contract.

Now for some good news: Social security does not affect and is not affected by any recovery against the manufacturer of asbestos products. If these two are the only claim you make, you get to keep all the benefits from both.

Q: Do I have to pay income tax on amounts I recover from my claims?

A: Generally, workers’ compensation and recoveries against an asbestos manufacturer are not subject to income tax. Social security benefits are partly taxable, depending on your income for the year you receive them. Union pension benefits are taxable if you didn’t pay the insurance premiums that bought them; they are tax free if you did. (Here’s a bad one, though: If you lose social security benefits because you also got workers’ compensation, the amount of those workers’ compensation benefits is taxable as social security even though workers’ compensation is not taxable. The IRS always wins!)