New York, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) – Flight attendant uniforms find themselves regularly at the center of workers’ compensation disputes, but don’t always end up being the cause of the flight attendant’s inury.
However, in Molina v. Delta Airlines, No. 533303 (N.Y. App. Div. 01/13/22), the court found that a Delta flight attendant’s respiratory problems were connected to the uniform she had to wear on the job, thanks to a specialist’s opinion.
New Uniform, New Symptoms
The flight attendant developed respiratory problems, including coughs and shortness of breath, shortly after she began wearing an employer-provided uniform for work. Her symptoms progressively worsened over the next year. Despite consulting “numerous” medical providers, treatment did not cure her symptoms or provide an answer as to the cause of her difficulties.
A specialist who examined the flight attendant later determined that, based in part upon his involvement with other patients who experienced similar problems with new flight attendant uniforms, that the flight attendant’s issues were caused by an allergic response to her uniform.
With the specialist’s assistance, the flight attendant obtained an exemption from wearing the uniform. After switching uniforms, the flight attendant reported a significant improvement in her symptoms, but filed a workers’ compensation claim for cough, dyspnea, and respiratory abnormalities.
At the behest of the airline, the flight attendant was examined by an allergist, who concluded that her exposure to the uniform was not the cause of her respiratory symptoms. Additionally, a toxicologist tested the fabric used in the uniforms and did not find chemicals at level that would cause adverse health effects in sensitive people.
A workers’ compensation law judge disallowed the claim, crediting the medical opinions of the allergist and toxicologist. On administrative review, the Workers’ Compensation Board reversed and established the claim for occupational disease to include cough, dyspnea, and respiratory abnormalities. The airline’s carrier appealed.
In New York, to establish an occupational disease, a workers’ compensation claimant must demonstrate a recognizable link between her condition and a distinctive feature of her employment.
The court affirmed the board’s decision, highlighting that the flight attendant had no prior allergies and had never smoked and that her severe, persistent cough and respiratory symptoms began shortly after she began wearing the work uniform and grew progressively worse over time.
Additionally, the only times her symptoms subsided were when she was away from work, and her symptoms returned in “full force” when she went back to work.
In the court’s view, the specialist’s testimony established a “recognizable link” between the flight attendant’s symptoms and her work uniform that was “rationally supported” and “signified a probability” that there was a connection between her health challenges and the uniform.