St. Peters, MO, (Law Firm Newswire) February 20, 2015 - A Missouri Court of Appeals has affirmed the decision of a lower court to award workers’ compensation benefits to Dorothy Smith, a widow who lost her husband to hepatitis C.
Smith’s husband, Stephen Smith, worked in a medical laboratory for more than 30 years, beginning in 1969. There, he could have been exposed to the disease before protective equipment and procedures became common in the 1990s.
“In this case, the employer tried to argue that Ms. Smith should not get benefits because she could not definitively prove that the workplace was the source of her husband’s infection,” remarked Charlie James, a Missouri workers’ compensation attorney not involved with the case. “But the court ruled that Ms. Smith did not have to provide absolute proof. Ms. Smith only needed to show that it was probable that her husband’s workplace was the source of the infection.”
Before the regular use of protective safety measures, Stephen Smith and his colleagues worked regularly under conditions in which particles of blood could be splashed into the eyes and nose, and in which laboratory technicians frequently experienced accidental needle sticks.
For many years, Smith also tested blood using a technique that required him to use his mouth to suck blood into a pipette. While blood was not supposed to enter the mouth during this procedure, it was significantly likely that blood particles could do so.
Smith’s employer, Capital Region Medical Center, showed that he had been the recipient of a blood transfusion in 1970. The center argued that he could have been infected with hepatitis C during the transfusion.
But the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission agreed with the expert medical witness for Dorothy Smith, who testified that it was more than 90 percent likely that her husband contracted hepatitis C as a result of his work. Still, initially, Ms. Smith was not awarded benefits because the Commission held that she could not prove that the infection happened at work.
“The appeals court clarified that to receive benefits, a claimant need only prove the probability that working conditions caused an injury,” commented James. “It is important for workers to know that they may be able to receive workers' compensation benefits for a work injury even if they cannot fully prove exactly how the injury happened.”
The case is in question is Stephen Smith, Dorothy Smith v. Capital Region Medical Center, docket number WD77043, filed in the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District.
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