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Did mold exposure create a compensable injury under workers’ comp?

There’s no question this former employee was exposed to mold at work. After the exposure, she developed an inflammatory illness that can affect the lungs. Did workers’ comp cover her condition? 

In March 2013, Angela Lyle began working in the payroll division of Brock Services LLC in Norco, LA. Her office was located in a trailer. From the start of her employment, Lyle observed mold throughout the trailer on air vents, window sills, ceiling tiles and baseboards. She says over time, the mold increased.

In the spring and summer of 2015, Lyle began experiencing fatigue, phlegm in her chest and throat, burning/watery eyes, and sores in her nose. Her symptoms got worse, and on Dec. 31, 2015, she suffered a nose bleed in front of her safety manager.

That prompted testing which confirmed mold and fungal spores in the trailer where Lyle worked. The trailer was replaced in January 2016.

Lyle’s headaches and nosebleeds stopped, but she continued to experience fatigue, phlegm in her chest and throat, and burning eyes. By April, she started experiencing pain in various parts of her body, increased fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive problems. She resigned from her job on June 10, 2016.

In October 2016, Lyle went to the ER two times due to her worsening symptoms. She was diagnosed with sarcoidosis of her lungs and lymph nodes. Lyle filed a workers comp claim which was disputed by Brock Services.

A workers’ compensation judge (WCJ) found a clerical worker’s sarcoidosis due to mold exposure at the office doesn’t qualify as an accident or an occupational disease under Louisiana’s workers’ comp law.

Lyle appealed, arguing the WCJ didn’t use the proper definition of an occupational disease as found by the state’s supreme court.

In Louisiana, an employee’s work-related duties and the nature of the employment are considered when determining whether an illness is an occupational disease.

A state appeals court had found in a previous case regarding workplace mold exposure:

“The test is whether exposure to mold and mold spores are ‘conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease … Injuries and illnesses resulting from mold exposure in a clerical job do not fall under the definition … we can find no basis in the statutory language of reasonable explanation as to why exposure to mold and mold spores could be considered ‘characteristic of and peculiar to’ clerical work.”

Lyle argued that a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling made her illness compensable. In that case, the state’s highest court concluded the noise-induced hearing loss suffered by workers at a paper mill was an occupational disease.

But the appeals case hearing her case found that the supreme court decision supported the WCJ’s ruling because hearing loss was an occupational disease caused by exposure to high levels of industrial noise at the facility. A causal connection between the injury and work was necessary.

In Lyle’s case, the appeals court concluded her “sarcoidosis did not arise from causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to her employment as a clerical worker.” The WCJ’s decision denying workers’ comp benefits was upheld.

(Angela Douglas Lyle v. Brock Services LLCFifth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana, No. 18-CA-50, 7/31/18)

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