(AP) The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that a former slaughterhouse worker should receive disability benefits after he contracted brucellosis from hogs.

The court ruled that brucellosis is an occupational injury and not an occupational disease. The decision overturns a Polk County District Court ruling denying benefits to Lee Burress. Burress worked at an IBP Inc. plant from 1987 to 1997. The first few years he worked killing hogs and cutting off their heads.

He began experiencing hip pain in July 2003 and underwent surgery. He developed an infection that lasted for several months and later that year was diagnosed with brucellosis, which doctors said he contracted from coming into contact with hog blood while working at the plant.

Court records show Burress submitted a claim for workers compensation, which IBP challenged. The company also claimed Burress did not file his claim within one year after exposure, as required by state code.

A workers compensation commissioner ruled against the company and granted full and permanent benefits to Burress. The company appealed and a district court judge overturned the commissioner's decision. Burress appealed and the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, reversing the district court decision. That prompted IBP to seek further review from the Supreme Court.

The court wrote that Iowa code has two sections addressing workers compensation, one for injuries and one for illnesses. The court wrote that under the state code covering workers compensation for job-related injuries, a person must show they suffered an injury while on the job and that a two-year statute of limitations does not begin until the employee discovers the problem.

The court says IBP's contention that Burress' brucellosis was an occupational disease is not supported by the evidence.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson released a statement Friday saying the company is "sorry Mr. Burress became ill.

"He did not seek a workers' compensation claim until more than seven years after he left IBP, making it extremely difficult to confirm whether the brucellosis had any connection to the plant," the statement read. "In fact, we are unaware of any claims of workers at our pork plants ever contracting brucellosis."

Source: Associated Press