Maybe you are often tasked with running a jackhammer for the construction company you work for and you are experiencing a great deal of pain in your shoulders and elbows. Perhaps you work in an office where you sit for hours at a time typing away and your doctor just diagnosed you with carpal tunnel syndrome. It could be that you work on an assembly line and you have started feeling every one of those movements that you repeat every day. If you have a job-related injury that resulted from repetitive motions or strain like those just described, then you might be eligible for compensation for cumulative injuries.
What Constitutes a Cumulative Injury?
A cumulative injury is one that results from repeated actions rather than from one particular event – an injury that takes place over time rather than a single moment. These repeated actions can include repetitive motions (as in the case of carpal tunnel syndrome), repeated exposure (e.g., inhalation of silica dust), or repeated events. These injuries could be directly related to the performance of your job, such as typing or lifting, or they could be a result of being exposed to something in the atmosphere of your job, such as airborne chemicals.
Are Cumulative Injuries Covered Under Worker’s Compensation?
Many individuals incorrectly believe that injuries that are not the result of a single incident (e.g., losing a finger in a machine shop accident or falling down the stairs) are not covered under Worker’s Compensation and will discourage others from applying. This is not so, however. Worker’s Compensation Law does include provisions for cumulative injury sustained on the job.
Are There Other Names for Cumulative Injuries?
Cumulative injuries may also be referred to as repeated motion injuries, repetitive stress injuries, or cumulative trauma disorders. Note that all of these involve repeated motion.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Cumulative Injuries?
The key causes of cumulative injuries are:
- Using tools that vibrate heavily (e.g., an employee using a jackhammer every day)
- Using certain tools with very rigid edges
- Repetitive motions (e.g., an employee on an assembly line)
- Forceful pulling, lifting, gripping, or pushing
Injuries from these types of actions are made much worse when there is not a chance for the body to recover, such as insufficient breaks or breaks that are too short.
What Kind of Jobs Can Result in Cumulative Injuries?
As far as what type of workers commonly sustain cumulative job-related injury, the list includes housekeepers, construction workers, home health aides, machine operators, assemblers, brick layers, data entry operators, computer programmers, graphic designers, meat packers, and those who operate buffers or grinders.
Potential Issue: Proving it is Work Related
Keep in mind that sometimes cumulative injuries are difficult to prove, and that means it can be very difficult for you to win compensation. The major problem lies in proving it is work-related, or in legal terms, arising out of employment or occurring during the course of employment. An injury is considered work related if an event or exposure in the work environment either contributed to it (e.g., made it worse) or caused it.
What Should I Do?
Once you know that your disability is related to your work, you must notify your employer of your work-related injury within 21 days or risk missing out on some of your compensation. A written notice is not required but is highly recommended because people can easily “forget” verbal notices. Your employer will likely have a form for you to fill out; make sure that you retain a copy of the form once you have submitted it back to your employer.
The Discovery Rule for Cumulative Injuries
The 21-day period usually begins on your last day on the job for the simple reason that every additional day you work, performing the same tasks that originally caused the injury, the worse the condition will become. However, in Pennsylvania there is a “discovery rule” that changes how the 21-day period works. It may be that you didn’t know you had suffered an injury until after you left your job or, in many cases, after your doctor informed you. In such cases, the 21-day notice period is triggered not by when the injury occurred but by when you discovered, or were reasonably sure, that your injury resulted from your job. If you wait more than 120 days to inform your employer of your injury, your claim may be denied entirely. However, it’s important to notify them as soon as possible, and within the 21-day period, because otherwise you may not be compensated for your injury during that time.
Worker’s Compensation injuries are not just relegated to dramatic injuries that result from a single incident on the job: injuries can also develop over time as the same motions or actions are repeated day after day, each day making the physical problem a little worse. This can happen in intensely physical jobs like those of construction workers or even desk jobs like data entry operators or graphic designers. If it is a cumulative injury, from the time you realize that you have suffered a work related injury, or should have reasonably known that your injury was work related, you have 21 days to notify your employer or you may lose out on some of your compensation. Every day matters, so it’s imperative that you give notice as soon as possible.
Do you suspect that you need to file for Worker’s Compensation because of a cumulative injury? My name is Geoffrey Hillsberg and I would like to help. I have been practicing in the field of worker’s compensation claims and law in the state of Pennsylvania since 1995. I handle these types of cases exclusively and am devoted to getting you the compensation you deserve. Contact Hillsberg Law today and let me help you with your workers’ compensation claim.
The advice offered above is general in nature and may not be applicable to every case. Consultation with an attorney is highly recommended. Reliance on this advice does not represent the formation of an attorney-client relationship in the absence of a fee agreement with Mr. Hillsberg.