The short answer: Yes, it can. However, it is not always an easy case to prove.
The petitioner claiming an occupational disease must show that the disease is due in a material degree to causes or conditions that characterize the employee’s occupation and that substantively contribute to the development of the disease. There may be an issue of dual causation in the occupational heart case that is a personal element such as smoking combined with occupational exposure.
The question then becomes whether the legal cause of the disease results from the exposure at work or from personal factors. The petitioner must show that the work exposure exceeds the exposure caused by the petitioner’s personal risk factors and that the work exposure significantly contributed to the development of the disease. An occupational exposure substantially contributes to a disease when the exposure is so significant, that without the exposure, the disease would not have developed to the extent that it caused the disability resulting in the petitioner’s incapacity.
In addition to medical testimony the petitioner must show the extent of the worker’s exposure to the alleged occupational conditions, the extent of the other non-work related exposures, and the manner in which the disease developed with reference to the claimant’s medical and work history. The petitioner’s testimony of the extent of the exposure alone may not be sufficient to sustain his burden of proof.