Connie R. Gates, who was awarded total disability benefits by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court, was awarded Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits as a result of her sensitivity to latex products.
The Administrative Law Judge in the Social Security action found that the evidence presented in the case rendered a finding of a disability as defined under the Social Security Act. The applicant who is 35 years of age with 16 years of formal education offered medical evidence that she sustained an occupational disease, namely, latex allergy. The symptoms that she presented with included urticarial plaques with increasing tightness of the throat and chest within as little as 15 to 20 minutes of her exposure to latex materials. She also suffered general erythema, shortness of breath, light headedness and abdominal pain. Her medical management included the prescription of an epinephrine pen, maintaining a beta agonist metered dose inhaler, and Zyrtec daily. Additionally she was required to wear a Medic Alert bracelet to avoid inadvertent exposure to latex.
In his report to the court, the treating physician indicated the global presence of latex in today’s society which would include clothing, balloons, writing instruments, computer peripherals, medical products, sporting goods, household appliances, motor vehicles, furnishings in the home, and kitchen equipment. While the treating physician opined that she could work in an environment in which she would not be exposed to latex allergens, such a latex “safe” environment does not exist because latex particles often become airborne and circulate through a ventilating system.
Additionally, evidence presented by a vocational rehabilitation expert as well as by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court established that, “…all reasonable vocational rehabilitation efforts have been attempted, but to no avail.”
The claimant also testified at the hearing that the allergic reaction began in April of 1998 with the symptoms of hives and swelling of her eyes and that the symptoms persisted even though she began to wear latex-free gloves in her work environment. The former nurse advised the Administrative Law Judge that a limited exposure of grocery shopping in 15-minute increments from 3 to 4 times a week produced adverse reactions consistently. The Administrative Law Judge indicated that it was reasonable to conclude that because of the symptoms associated with her latex allergy that her residual functional capacity for maximum sustained work activity has been reduced to the requirements of sedentary labor at best. However, the Judge indicated that in consideration of the claimant’s need to have a safe work environment because of her latex allergy and the fact that virtually every occupation requires exposure to latex, that “…Claimant’s occupational base for even sedentary labor has been so eroded that a significant number of jobs for her do not exist in the regional economy, and a finding of disability is appropriate…”
In awarding her disability under the Social Security Act The Administrative Law Judge additionally awarded her Supplemental Security Income benefits effective the first day of the month following the month of her application. In light of her young age and a potential for medical improvement of her impairment as medical research may produce alternate treatments, the Judge indicated that she should undergo a residual functional capacity evaluation approximately 24 months from the date of his decision.
The Administrative Law Judge’s favorable decision awarding Social Security Disability benefits to Connie Gates provides recognition and credibility to the latex allergy medical condition. The awarding of Social Security Disability benefits in cases of latex allergies provides another needed avenue for recovery for those who become latex allergic in addition to the benefits available under State Workers’ Compensation Acts and products liability actions.
By Jon L. Gelman, Attorney at Law