Employee regularly exposed to diesel exhaust fumes, other hazardous materials, doctor says
An employee sustained industrial injuries to her colon along with ovarian cancer, a hernia, and peripheral neuropathy, a worker’s compensation administrative law judge recently found. A panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California upheld this finding.
Beginning in 1984, the applicant in the case of Arbogast vs. California Highway Patrol, legally uninsured, administered by State Compensation Insurance Fund worked as a traffic officer for California Highway Patrol. She received a cancer diagnosis in 2014. She had two surgeries to remove the cancer.
Qualified medical examiners for oncology and neurology examined the applicant. The oncology examiner reported that her work history included performing commercial inspection activities and attending to vehicular and residential fires. These activities allegedly regularly exposed her to diesel exhaust fumes from idling commercial vehicles and trucks and to other hazardous materials.
The medical examiner in neurology noted that the applicant should frequently visit the oncologist and the endocrinologist since clear cell ovarian cancer had a high risk of recurrence.
In 2017, the worker’s compensation judge found that the applicant had an insidious, progressive disease and needed further medical treatment to cure or to relieve her from the industrial injury’s effects.
The employer filed a petition for reconsideration. It argued that the medical record, which stated that the applicant’s ovarian cancer would probably recur, failed to establish that the cancer was an insidious, progressive disease because her condition was permanent and stationary.
Cancer is insidious, progressive
The panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California mostly affirmed the judge’s decision except for amending it to reserve jurisdiction over permanent disability.
First, the panel agreed that applicant’s cancer was an insidious progressive disease in line with the factors stated in the decision of Ruffin v. Olson Glass Co. (1987). Specifically, her cancer was clearly caused by a “remote” and “undramatic” work exposures from 1992 to 2004 and had a long latency from the exposure date to the diagnosis date, the panel said.
While it was unclear whether the cancer was worsening, the panel found that there was at least a 50-percent chance that the cancer would recur and that future additional impairment was possible, as the oncology examiner reported.
The medical evidence did not need to show with 100-percent certainty that the applicant’s cancer would worsen to justify reserving jurisdiction over permanent disability, the panel said. Instead, the potential for the cancer to worsen, as described by the oncology examiner, was enough.