Workers Comp for Occupational Disease of Lead Poisoning

In Lash v. Workmen's Comp. Appeal Bd. (Gen. Battery Corp.), 491 Pa. 294, 420 A.2d 1325 (1980), the employer, a manufacturer of lead-lined batteries, transferred two claimants from positions that exposed them to lead to lower-paying jobs with no lead exposure because, based on prior exposure, they became lead absorbers. Since the positions were less remunerative than their former lead hazard positions, the claimants sought occupational disease benefits for the loss of earnings. A referee denied benefits, concluding as a matter of law the claimants did not prove they sustained a work injury or occupational disease under the Workers Compensation Act. This Court agreed, noting: The claimants testified that they enjoy good health and that they could have continued in their higher paying positions. Moreover, each claimant admitted that he had not sought medical attention for any symptoms relating to lead poisoning. It is therefore not surprising that the only 'medical' evidence offered on behalf of the claimants was the blood-lead charts kept by the employer and letters written by a physician apparently retained by the employer, which recommended that, as a preventive measure, each claimant be kept out of lead-exposed areas. Lash v. Workmen's Comp. Appeal Bd. (Gen. Battery Corp.), 30 Pa. Commw. 124, 372 A.2d 1265, 1266 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1977). On further appeal, however, our Supreme Court reversed. The Court held the claimants contracted the occupational disease of lead poisoning and further exposure to lead would endanger their health despite the fact the claimants were "in good health" and asymptomatic. Holding the claimants were eligible for partial disability benefits due to their loss of earning power because they were precluded from performing jobs that required lead exposure, the Court stated "that the claimants' health had not yet deteriorated to the advanced stages of lead poisoning does not mean that they were not suffering from a compensable injury." Id. at 297, 420 A.2d at 1326.