Is there any reason to file for Workman's Compensation (WC)?
Know from the outset, that these cases are very hard and lengthy to win, though increasingly, teachers are prevailing in school mold WC cases.
A teacher in CT, Joellen Lawson, whose testimony is found here on our site, did not file for Worker's Compensation during the two years she tried to work out the problem with the school district. Eventually, many years after she became too ill to work, the school was found to have massive amounts of mold, and had to be demolished. Because Mrs. Lawson tried to work with the school district, and did not file within the statute of limitations in her state, she was not able to recover financially from the her loss of her career or have her medical expenses covered. If you read her testimony, she feels it is one of her biggest mistakes.
Read your Worker's Compensation regulations and see if this might apply to your situation. Go to your public library, Amazon.com or your local Barnes & Noble bookstore, etc., and check out or buy a copy of the (latest edition only) of the Nolo Guide entitled "Take Charge of Your Worker's Compensation Claim, An A-Z Guide for Injured Employees in _______" (your state), or a comparable book. The Nolo guides are designed for the lay person to understand the law and be able to know the correct process and how the law applies. This book is invaluable, in my opinion.
Also, you can go to your local Worker's Compensation office and pick up materials and ask questions.
It is important to know that employers become nervous about these claims - the more claims, the higher their insurance - but it is my understanding that they must provide you with a pamphlet about your rights under Worker's Compensation and not disallow your right to make the initial claim, if you feel that it is work-related. You should verify this by calling your local Worker's Compensation office.
Also, you should strongly consider seeking legal advice from a Worker's Compensation attorney who specializes in this area (especially one familiar with mold claims). Some are listed on www.moldwarriors.com. Your union may be able to advise you re: which attorney to see. The initial visit will probably be free and if you retain an attorney, he/she will probably work under a contingency agreement - not being paid unless there is a settlement, with a capitated (limited) %-age they are allowed to collect. This may vary from state to state, so check with the local Worker's Compensation office regarding that, also. It can be found in the White Pages, under State agencies or on the Internet, under your state gov't website.
I mention all of the above because these areas are repeatedly ones of concern to injured teachers who feel it is the building - and the above has been helpful to many who have followed what the law entitles them to do, but you must know your rights to exercise them! Your union may also refer you to an attorney. Also, I have been told, repeatedly, by personal injury attorneys, that the injuries do best fall under Worker's Compensation. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against workers due to filing these claims.
You may be allowed to pre-designate a physician of our own choosing to handle work injuries, prior to turning in future claims. That may have to be done in writing - with the doctor's name, address and phone on it, stating he/she is to be one's treating doctor for all future work injuries, with proof of service, or a receipt of some kind advisable, and ahead of turning in a claim. Some mold injuries are called a "continuous injury - starting from the time I became ill - or even, when the building was entered would have been better - through the current date turned in.
The pre-designation of the physician allows you the chance to select a physician you personally trust that is knowledgable in the areas you might need, who diagnoses and directs your treatment. This is mentioned in the Steps to Follow page of this site. Check on whether your state allows this option and know that the Nolo Guide stresses the importance of having your own, trusted physician, vs. a district selected doctor who may or may not represent your interests. It is sad but true that some employer physicians can ignore much valid data and draw the conclusions that the district wants to hear - that "nothing is wrong" or if they must admit that there is, that "it isn't the building", even despite data to the contrary. It can complicate matters to be in the hands of a doctor who is fulfilling this sort of role - and can limit the types of consults and treatments you will receive. Mold illness impacts multiple organs and is very complex. You will want to be in good hands - of a doctor who also can handle the paperwork that a Worker's Comp claim generates! Those who are QME's, also, or Qualified Medical Examiners, are helpful, as they understand the requirements of a Worker's Compensation claim, are able to write the required reports, and so on - this is all explained in the Nolo guide and related types of books.
A final note: When the physicians examine you and they and health authorities determine if the building is "sick", one of the measures is whether other people are ill in the building. If the ill workers do not file for Worker's Compensation claims (these are tabulated), OSHA and the physicians may conclude that there isn't a problem in the building. The more ill people in the building, the more obvious it is that the building may be "sick", according to many experts. Therefore, when staff do not file claims, it can cause the problem to continue, formally unaddressed, with no one truly aware of how ill the staff may be.
Lastly, but very importantly, documenting the dampness and mold in the building and any contributing building defects or maintenance problems, is critical to any legal case, and you may wish to videotape, photograph, self-test, have an expert come in, etc.. Obtaining district reports, having your union hire an independent expert, etc., is very important in helping prove there was a building problem. Staff and parent surveys showing whether others are ill are also helpful for documentation. Unfortunately, conducting these activities may be seen in a negative light by the employer, and getting help from unions, parents, etc. may be of help to you.
www.moldwarriors.com is an excellent resource to describe, from a doctor's perspective, what must be done.
Jury Backs Teacher Who Says Room Made Her Ill
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007; C11
A Montgomery County jury has found in favor of a teacher who said she was driven from her job by mold in a portable classroom at a Burtonsville school.
Jurors in state Circuit Court found Thursday that Shirley Washington, who taught English at Banneker Middle School, contracted an occupational disease and is entitled to worker's compensation from the state, according to her attorney, Bruce M. Bender of Rockville.
Washington is one of a number of teachers and students in the county who have reported falling ill from exposure to mold and other toxins inside portable classrooms. In the largest such case, school officials replaced eight portable classrooms last year behind Bells Mill Elementary School in Potomac after 41 students and several teachers reported ailments. The entire school is scheduled for replacement by 2009, according to Principal Jerri Oglesby.
But although all the teachers who got sick at Bells Mill returned to work in clean classrooms, Washington has not taught again.
Assigned to portable classroom P-6 at Banneker in fall 2004, the 20-year veteran developed fatigue, coughing, wheezing, headaches and other problems, all of which "we believe are a result of exposure to mold," Bender said. She left the school system in January 2005 "and has not been able to work since," he said.
School officials said Washington failed to prove that mold caused her illness and stressed that the jury verdict did not specify the nature or cause of her malady.
"We will be asking the judge to set aside the verdict in this case, because there was no evidence presented during the trial that the mold had anything to do with the illnesses for which she is seeking compensation," said Brian Edwards, spokesman for the school system.
Washington went to work at Banneker in fall 2003 and was placed in P-6 the next year. She filed a series of complaints about air quality starting in mid-December, saying her symptoms had appeared when the air conditioner in the classroom was turned off in fall.
In one complaint, she wrote of "lack of air circulation; wet ceiling tiles; dusty vents" and "old stains" on the carpet, and she reported symptoms of "dry coughs, shortness of breath, running nose, running eyes." In a subsequent memo, she said she had missed two weeks of school with an upper respiratory infection, adding that "the physician believes my problem may well be related to/activated by allergies to particles inside my room."
Washington said she believes the portable classroom in which she taught has been moved and said she has seen it outside another school, Rosemary Hills Elementary in Silver Spring. School officials would not confirm or refute that claim Friday.
Portable classrooms are thought to be especially prone to problems in air quality because of poor ventilation, lower construction standards and vulnerability to the elements and to damage during relocation from school to school.
The Montgomery school system has several hundred portable classrooms and is considered a national leader in addressing air quality problems. The system employs two teams to investigate such problems; most school systems have none.
An air quality employee visited Washington's classroom and reported stained ceiling tiles and mold growth caused by poor drainage and a roof leak. He found elevated carbon dioxide readings inside the classroom. A subsequent report noted a defect in a heat pump that had prevented fresh air from being drawn into the room.
Washington said she developed so many physical and neurological problems that she was unable to return to work. She filed a claim with the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission, which ruled last year that Washington did not have an occupational disease.
This week's jury verdict, which followed a two-day trial, reversed that ruling. Washington's case will now be remanded to the state commission, but only after the school system exhausts its appeals, Bender said. The appeals could take "a couple of years," he said.
Washington "is very pleased" with the verdict, Bender said, "but she knows she has a long road ahead."
(Note: Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, Author of Mold Warriors and mold-treating physician in Maryland, was the expert in this case. Office website is www.chronicneurotoxins.com)
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