The Massachusetts Reviewing Board recently analyzed a case involving an employee’s allegation that the judge had erred in determining that she had not proven her claim of disability based on exposure to irritants causing asthma. The Board stated that an employee’s claim for workers’ compensation based on environmental conditions at work requires showing a causal relationship between the work conditions and the injuries sustained. In this case, the Board held the employee suffered an industrial accident while working, emphasizing that the judge adopted medical evidence that causally related her condition to her exposure to irritants at work.
Valerie Bonds worked for the Boston Public School Department, teaching from 1989 until October 20, 2011. Respiratory distress caused her to leave her position. She worked in buildings that were dilapidated, with water damage, leaks, exposed water pipes, and poor soil quality. While Ms. Bonds did not have a history of asthma, she had smoked for 34 years, and she began having respiratory issues in 2008. Ms. Bonds found her breathing issues took place when she was working inside school buildings, but her symptoms dissipated when she left school for fresh air. While Ms. Bonds temporarily left the school, she decided on October 20, 2011 that she could not return to work.
Ms. Bonds was diagnosed with rhinitis and work-related asthma. The judge found that Ms. Bonds’ condition was aggravated, if not caused, by the school air quality. But the judge denied and dismissed Ms. Bonds’ claim on the grounds that she had not presented persuasive evidence of her inability to work in the school buildings and that she had failed to prove she could not work at all. The judge cited the medical opinion that Ms. Bonds could work in an environment free of airborne irritants and factors increasing the growth of mold and water damage.