Workers’ Compensation for Smoke Inhalation

Firefighter using a hose on an extended ladder

Much of Southern California is currently under a thick blanket of smoke due to record-breaking wildfires spreading through the hills in seemingly all directions. Even with air advisory warnings being issued in large cities like Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, and more, people still need to go about their day-to-day work schedules. Workers who spend the majority of their shifts outside or near the front door of establishments could be at risk of breathing in smoke, ash, and other airborne contaminants as the fires rage. Will those workers be able to get workers’ compensation if they due suffer the ill effects of smoke inhalation?

A typical workers’ compensation insurance plan should account for illnesses and injuries caused by smoke inhalation. As always, the catch is whether or not the worker suffered smoke inhalation in the course of their work or while in the workplace. This is where matters can get tricky, and where insurance companies might try to find wiggle room that allows them to deny a claim.

Blaming Preexisting Injuries for Lung Damage

Insurance companies often try to pin the negative effects of smoke inhalation on preexisting medical conditions and behaviors. If you, as a claimant saying you got sick because you breathed in too much smoke while working, have ever smoked or vaped in the past, then you can be almost certain that the responding insurance company will blame any lung damage or respiratory illness on those behaviors. Or if you have a history of respiratory diseases in your family, then an insurer might point to those hereditary traits as to why you suffered more than others from smoke inhalation at work.

You might encounter another issue when trying to prove that your smoke inhalation illness is actually tied to your work. Unless you were in a burning building or next to a fire, you probably will not suffer immediate effects of smoke inhalation. Working outside while a wildfire burns in nearby hills is not good for your health, but it probably will not cause measurable harm and manifest smoke inhalation illness symptoms right away.

What are the symptoms of smoke inhalation?

  • Shortness of breath or labored breathing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Wheezing
  • Cough or painful hacking
  • Dark mucus or spit
  • Lethargy and fatigue

An insurance company might make it difficult for you to get workers’ compensation benefits if it is also difficult for you to show when your symptoms developed and why. Working with an attorney can be a smart way to improve the validity of your case by strengthening your argument and locating tangible evidence of the link between your job and your respiratory complications.

Presumption of Causality for Firefighters

It is worth noting that there is one occupation that usually gets the “benefit of the doubt” from workers’ comp insurance companies: firefighters. Each day, firefighters are put at risk of smoke inhalation at work because they are on the frontlines whenever there is a property fire or wildfire. When a firefighter comes down with smoke inhalation symptoms, it should be presumed the cause was their work and that they are eligible for full workers’ comp benefits and possibly disability leave until they recover.

The Law Offices of Wax & Wax provides workers’ compensation guidance and legal support to workers from all industries throughout Southern California. From our offices, we most often represent clients in Glendale, Santa Clarita, Burbank, and Los Angeles. If you have suffered smoke inhalation complications recently and while working, then we want to hear from you. Call (818) 946-0608 now.