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Court Considers Staph Infection from Cat Scratch as Occupational Disease Claim

On Behalf of | Jan 25, 2018 | Workers' Compensation Case Law |

Some Georgia workers’ compensation claims arise from occupational diseases that develop over a period of time, rather than an occupational injury. These claims can be complicated and require claimants to prove certain additional facts. In a recent case, one state’s supreme court considered whether a claimant’s Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection was a compensable occupational disease.

The claimant was a doctor who worked at a health clinic. He developed an infection in his right hand about eight months after he started working at the clinic. At the time, he told his doctor that the infection was likely caused by a cat scratch from a few weeks earlier. The claimant’s infection later spread throughout his body, causing him two strokes and requiring him to undergo numerous surgeries. The claimant then brought an occupational disease claim against his employer for workers’ compensation benefits. After his claim was denied, he appealed, and his case was eventually heard by the state’s supreme court.

The claimant argued that the previous state’s Commission mistakenly required him to show that he acquired the disease at the health clinic and that it was not present before his employment there. The state’s supreme court agreed. It explained that under the court’s interpretation of its state law, an occupational disease can be “incurred” while working for a series of employers before the disease manifests itself, but only the last employer is liable to the claimant.


The Court explained that to contract a MRSA infection, the bacteria has to be present, and there has to be an access point for the bacteria to enter the body. It can be present for years without producing an infection. The Court explained that although the bacteria likely entered through the cat scratch on the claimant’s hand, the Commission should have considered whether the claimant could have incurred the MRSA colonization under a series of employers before he started working at the health clinic. Therefore, the Court sent back the case to the Commission to reconsider the doctor’s claim.

Occupational Diseases

Since 1946, the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act has afforded claimants the right to benefits not only for occupational injuries but also for occupational diseases. Under O.C.G.A. 34-9-280, an occupational disease refers to diseases that “arise out of and in the course of the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease.” A claimant has to prove the following five facts in an occupational disease claim:  1) there was a “direct causal connection” between the conditions of employment and the disease; 2) the disease “followed as a natural incident of exposure” because of the employment; 3) the disease is not a type to which the employee would have substantial exposure outside the employment; 4) the disease is not an “ordinary disease of life” to which the general public is exposed; and 5) the disease appears to have originated as a risk connected with the employment and to have “flowed from that source as a natural consequence.”

Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you have developed a disease that may have been caused by your employment, contact a workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. At the law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., we are authorities on Georgia workers’ compensation law. Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys are former insurance defense attorneys, which means that we understand the other side’s tactics. Our attorneys have a combined 50 years of trial experience and have written articles and given lectures on workers’ compensation. To set up a free consultation about your claim, contact us today at 404-920-4708 .