DEFINITION of 'Cumulative Exposure'

Exposure to a hazard over an extended period of time. Cumulative exposure may cause damages years after an individual was first exposed to the hazard, as the symptoms of injury may take a long period of time to manifest.

BREAKING DOWN 'Cumulative Exposure'

In most cases, damages or injuries are immediately apparent after an accident occurs. It is easy to see the damage caused to a house by a flood, or to a pedestrian who slips on an icy sidewalk. Insurance companies are able to easily identify what caused the injury and when the event occurred, and thus quickly resolve any insurance claim made by the injured party. In some cases, however, damages are accumulated over a period of time, and determining when the damages started and what caused them can be complicated.

For insurance companies, cumulative exposure may spread over multiple policies over a long period of time. This creates a protracted liability potential depending on the type of policy that the insurer has underwritten. Workers’ compensation policies, for example, are much more likely to have a high liability potential for cumulative exposure than other types of policies.

Examples of hazards that an individual may be continually exposed to and that may result in cumulative exposure claims include having to make continuous, repetitive motions. This may occur if a roofer has to bend over to install shingles for several hours a day over several months. An individual may also be exposed to loud noises for a prolonged period of time, and may eventually have permanent damage to his or her ears as a result. Baggage handlers at an airport may be exposed to this hazard if they have to load and unload baggage near airplane engines almost everyday.

One of the most widely-known cases of cumulative exposure involves asbestos, which was traditionally used in construction materials until it was discovered that it could cause mesothelioma. Construction workers who worked with asbestos could have been exposed to asbestos particles for a number of years, and only much later demonstrated symptoms of disease.

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