Nebraska Adopts Single Reaction Theory
The Nebraska workers' compensation court has followed the theory adopted by a majority of jurisdictions in the United States and has accepted the single reaction theory of compensability for latex allergy claims. Even though a latex sensitized nurse worked for a subsequent employer and developed subsequent allergic reactions, the Nebraska court held that a single incident of an exposure with resulting symptomatology many years earlier requiring medical treatment was an incident for which compensability could be attributed. In following this position and rejecting "the last injurious rule" theory, Nebraska has simplified the procedure to obtain workers' compensation benefits and avoided complex and expensive litigation requiring multiple parties to appear in order to apportion liability.
Barbara Morris was employed as a registered nurse in 1983 at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. At that time she experienced itching and redness of both hands while wearing latex gloves. In subsequent years the symptoms that she suffered increased in severity and in 1996 her physicians and employer required her to discontinue working regular hours, limiting her activity to part-time employment. During October 1998, her condition became worse and she could no longer perform her duties. She stopped work and sought medical care. The subsequent employer, Nebraska Health System, attempted to avoid liability by asserting that the employees of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Clarkson Hospital did not become employees of the Nebraska Health System until June 1, 1998 when it purchased the medical center and the hospital.
The workers' compensation court in Nebraska held that, while latex sensitivity was a compensable disease, the liability for such disability could not be attributed to a subsequent event even though the injured worker did not stop work until that later date. The court relied upon two Nebraska cases which included Hull v. Aetna Ins. Co., 247 Neb. 713, 529 N.W.2d 783 (1995) and Ross v. Baldwin Filters, 5 Neb. App. 194, 577 N.W.2d 368 (1996). Both cases involved a dermatological condition, and the responsibility was not shifted to the insurance company on the risk at the time the petitioner stopped work but rather to the time that the petitioner manifested symptomatology of the disease in a manner sufficient to cause treatment by a physician.
The decision in this case is consistent with a series of Nebraska workers' compensation court decisions which uphold the social, remedial aspects of the Workers' Compensation Act by attempting to provide benefits in an efficient and effective manner to latex sensitized claimants. Morris v. Nebraska Health Systems, et al, Docket 200 #98 (July 24, 2000) 2000. WL 1119701 (Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court)