Smoking Reduces Workers Comp Award in Asbestos Case

For 23 years, George Deschenes worked as an insulation installer, where he was regularly exposed to asbestos. His lungs took a double hit because Deschenes also smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day for more than 20 years. In 1994, he was diagnosed with asbestos-related pleural lung disease. Unable to work full time, he filed a workers compensation claim against three former employers: Reed and Greenwood Insulation Co., AC&S Inc. and Transco Inc.

The Connecticut Compensation Review Board gave him a permanent partial disability award, finding that he had lost 25 percent of his lung function. But two of the former employers--Reed and Greenwood and AC&S--appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, contending that his workers comp award should be reduced because his lungs also had been damaged by smoking-related emphysema. They cited testimony from one doctor who found that three-quarters of his disability was caused by smoking and only one-quarter by asbestos exposure.

Pre-existing Problems

A fundamental principle of workers compensation is that when an employer hires someone, he takes the employee as he finds him, with any pre-existing conditions. The question is whether the Workers Compensation Act requires the apportionment of benefits when two separate but concurrently developing medical conditions, only one of which is work-related, cause a disability.

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Christopher Danzig

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Yesenia Salcedo

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