Terry Smothers claimed that exposure to chemicals from his job as a lube technician led to lung problems, but Oregon's workers' comp board said he couldn't prove that workplace exposure was the major cause of his problem.
The state's high court is letting him sue anyway, overturning an Oregon statute that made workers' compensation the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries, even if a claim was not compensable. Most states have similar laws.
Oregon's Supreme Court said when workers' comp doesn't provide a remedy, the worker must be allowed to head to court. (Smothers v. Gresham Transfer Inc., No. SC S44512, Ore. Sup. Ct., 2001)
Advice: Minimizing the risk of workplace injuries is always good advice, but the stakes just got higher.
Workers' comp experts say this ruling could spread to other states that have exclusive remedy provisions, a basic tenet of the workers' comp system. It may also be a threat to many state board rulings that prevent workers from suing for certain injuries and illnesses, mainly mental illnesses, that they claim are job-related.
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