Identifying and Controlling Immunotoxic Substances Page: 72
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72. Identifyingand Controlling Immunotoxic Substances
compensation statute on the basis of petrochemical hy-
persensitivity, which led, according to the claimant's physician,
to a cascade of dysfunction of the claimant's immune system..
The treating physician wrote that,"... the constant exposure
over 19 years to the petrochemicals in her workplace dysregu-
lated [the claimant's] immune system resulting in an allergic
or hypersensitivity cascade to her total environment, in-
cluding all foods, chemicals, and her own microbiological
flora." The court found that the plaintiff's hypersensitivity was
created by her workplace and left her unable to function
properly in any environment.
A Florida appeals court also upheld a workers' com-
pensation award based on an immune injury. In Dayron
Corporation v. Morehead 509 So. 2d 930 (Florida 1987),
the claimant developed a permanent sensitivity to a
coolant used in his workplace. Although the claimant
showed no signs of illness when outside of the workplace,
the sensitivity was deemed a permanent disability for
purposes of entitlement to workers' compensation.
Workers' compensation benefits were also awarded in
Kyles v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (Califor-
nia Court of Appeals, 1st Appellate District, Division 4,
1st Civil No. A037375, Oct. 21, 1987), where long-term
PCB exposure was found to have led to chemical hyper-
These cases indicate that courts will entertain a claim
for workers' compensation based on an immune injury if
the claimant establishes a work-related cause. Some
States, most notably California, are considering an in-
surance system that would compensate employees
regardless of the work-relatedness of their illness or
injury, but such plans remain in a very preliminary stage
at this time.
The cases also indicate, however, that such claims
often proceed to court after they fail to be settled at the
administrative level. This increases the costs of the sys-
tem and delays workers' receipt of benefits. If the in-
ability to work extends for a prolonged period, workers
can quickly become impoverished. Most State workers'
compensation statutes also foreclose a worker's ability to
bring a tort case against the employer unless the worker
can reasonably claim that the employer intentionally
caused the injury or illness.
Congressional Interest in Workers'
Congress has been concerned with the workers' com-
pensation system for many years. In 1970 Congress
created a National Commission on State Workmen's
Compensation Laws, which concluded, in a 1972 report,
that State laws in general were "inadequate and inequi-
table." The Commission urged Congress to impose na-
tional standards if the States did not act quickly on the
Commission's key recommendations. On average, States
now comply with just over 12 (out of 19) of these recom-
mendations (18). No Federal standards have been
Hearings were held in 1979 on the National Workers'
Compensation Standards Act, which would have guaran-
teed minimum compensation levels nationwide and
created an advisory panel to look at causation issues.
Then Secretary of Labor Raymond Marshall, and several
other witnesses, testified to the peculiar problems of
compensating occupational disease, especially issues of
causation and long latency (24). Hearings were also held
in 1981 and 1983 on bills that would have created Federal
standards of compensation for work-related exposure to
toxic substances (21,22). None of those bills was enacted.
No bills introduced in the 101st Congress attempted to
reform the workers' compensation system as it relates to
This section briefly describes how tort law provides
compensation for injuries due to exposure to toxic sub-
stances. It also summarizes a few cases based on evidence
of immune system damage, and briefly discusses recent
congressional activity related to tort law.
Basic Tort Law
Tort law is part of the common law system. Its purpose
is to compensate persons injured as the result of the
conduct of another. In order to receive compensation for
an injury through the tort system, a claimant, or plaintiff,
files suit alleging tortious (wrongful) conduct on the part
of the defendant. To prove a case, the plaintiff must show
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United States. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Identifying and Controlling Immunotoxic Substances, report, April 1991; [Washington D.C.]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc39990/m1/71/: accessed October 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.