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Taking A Deep Breath: Occupational Lung Disease in North Carolina

I. Lung Disease From Cotton

Robert P. worked in the peak days of North Carolina mill history. His hard work spanned a career that included the start of a world war and the end of Vietnam. Ending his schooling in the fifth grade didn’t stop him from earning a top production job at a cotton plant in Edna.

Robert was born at the virtual start of the Great Depression, and this really explains why he only finished the fifth grade. He started working after the world war and then Korea, at what had become Cone’s Edna plant, in 1955. He was to go on to be a career employee there for over 20 years. He was such a good worker that he received a promotion to be a supervisor of the card room. The Charlotte workers comp attorney argued without dispute that during most of this time, Robert was “continually exposed” to a great amount of cotton dust and lint as a natural byproduct of the card room operations. As medical treatments eventually helped answer, the question raised by the Charlotte Workers comp attorney became: whether a different job did any good to prevent further exposure?

II. Mill Workers: Crucial in History, and Law

The Edna cotton mill was such an important historical landmark for thousands of people. Though it eventually closed in 2009, its impact began in 1889, and has important implications to North Carolina even today. That’s because so many workers relied on this mill for work, and were also affected by working conditions in and around the mill.

In this case, Robert’s workers comp attorney went on prove that Robert had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with what’s called a byssinosis component. The final result (partial permanent disability) of this dual diagnosis was confirmed by a second doctors opinion, the Robert had permanent and moderate lung impairment.

III.   Diagnosis: Millwork

They were among the hardest jobs in America, these mill workers. Long hours and often inadequate pay to keep the process going. In fact, the workers comp attorney in Robert’s case eventually proved that Robert had begun experiencing breathing problems within a few years of starting work at the Edna plant. Though there was not at first a medical treatment plan, the Charlotte Workers comp attorney did establish testimony to prove that for decades, Robert had tightness in his chest as well as a raspy cough; both these conditions had increasingly become noticeable to family and friends. One of the key facts in proving this medical deterioration over the decades was that people were able to testify that they saw a difference in Robert’s breathing—how his breathing improved over the weekends, and until when he went back to work on Mondays. Unfortunately, over the years, those symptoms began to appear on every single day of the week, eventually including weekends. Unfortunately, Robert did not seek a full medical evaluation until almost a quarter of a century after starting work.

IV.  Pleading Incompatibility

So, after several decades of mill work, how loyal is the company to an injured worker? In many cases, the company goes far beyond what may be required by the law. But in any event, to monitor the good faith of companies, it’s important to talk to a qualified Charlotte Workers comp attorney. In this case, it seemed that the mill offered a job that was not appropriate to Robert medical condition… a medical condition that was eventually established by his Charlotte Workers comp attorney as having been caused by loyal service. The job offered after Robert’s medical evaluation was in the supply room. In that job, Robert filled parts orders and handled part shipments, as well as taking basic inventory. He only lasted four days in the supply room. He was actually quickly hospitalized, because of chest pain and great difficulty in being able to breathe. In testimony drawn by Robert’s Charlotte Workers comp attorney, Robert testified that “I had to rest practically the whole 16 hours that I was home just to be able to get back and make it.”

Robert’s Charlotte Workers comp attorney carefully took the time to explain how the parts room was filled with dust. Lint and dust filtered from production areas via the large freight elevator and constantly through the old flooring. In legal terms, the Charlotte Workers comp attorney was going to prove that the job offered by the company was incompatible with Robert’s existing health. Once Robert was out of the hospital, he knew his days were numbered, in terms of being able to handle any more stress or injury. He couldn’t safely return to work after the hospital discharged him.

Despite these facts, which were established by Robert’s Charlotte Workers comp attorney, the mill ownership argued that Robert was not disabled within the meaning of the Worker’s Compensation act. This argument was because the company, true enough, had offered Robert an employment that the employer deemed to be consistent with Robert’s medical limitations. However, the Charlotte Workers comp attorney had been working with Robert and similar workers long enough, that an excellent medical record had been established to rebut the company argument.


An experienced Charlotte Workers comp attorney recognizes that the intimate and important details of an injured workers life have a great deal of relevance to proving a person’s injury at work. To the extent that these injuries may reflect a natural loyalty to the company, talking with a qualified lawyer can help a worker keep working. But a good Charlotte Workers comp attorney also communicates the importance of how workers may try to keep doing their jobs too long, despite failing health. This case was a classic example of how Robert continued to work, in large part because of his background and loyalty. The story of loyalty is never lost on an experienced workers comp attorney--a story, which the Supreme Court of North Carolina incorporated into a large part of its opinion, in awarding full benefits to Robert.

If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in a workplace incident—or have questions about a slow decline in health that has some root in work conditions, or involving related claims or your legal rights or hearings, please contact us.  You will speak with a Charlotte Workers comp attorney who can best answer your questions about how your cases may relate to each other.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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