Cumulative injuries can seem to come out of nowhere. You may think the slight pain you feel constantly is just part of aging, but then one morning you realize the pain is worse than it had been in the past. When did the pain start? What caused it? Is it something you will just have to live with from now on? If these are the questions you find yourself asking, you may want to consider whether your injury could be a result of your job.
To begin investigating a cumulative injury workers’ compensation case, you will want to take the following three steps. First, have your injury identified by a physician. Second, discover if and how that injury was caused by your employment. And third, notify your employer of your injury and its relation to your job. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you explore these steps.
Common Cumulative Injuries
Some of the most common cumulative injuries are carpal tunnel, hand-arm vibration syndrome, lumbar strains, and runner’s knee.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by repetitive motions of the wrist and fingers. The median nerve can become compressed in the wrist, leading to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hand.
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is caused by the frequent use of vibrating tools, such as jackhammers and chainsaws. It can lead to vibration of the fingers, tingling, numbness, and a lack of fine motor control.
Lumbar Strains are caused by the repetitive lifting of objects. The lumbar vertebrae are located in your lower back, below your ribs. When the muscles connecting to these vertebrae are strained, it leads to pain which can become debilitating if not allowed to rest.
Runner’s Knee is the common term used for multiple injuries affecting the cartilage beneath the kneecap. Activities that repeatedly stress the knee, such as lifting, can cause the cartilage to become inflamed, leading to pain.
Discovering Your Injury is Work-Related
When you’re injured in a single event at work, such as a slip and fall, your injury must be reported to your employer within 120 days, or 21 days to receive back pay. However, due to the nature of cumulative injuries, you may not even know your injury was caused by your work until after those deadlines would have passed. For this reason, the 120 and 21-day time limits do not start until you become aware or should have become aware that your injury is caused by your employment activity.
For example, let’s say you went to your doctor because you have been suffering from lower back pain recently. Your doctor then informs you that you have a lumbar strain and that it is likely caused by the repetitive lifting you perform at work. It is at this point, when you learn of the connection between your injury and your work, that the time period for reporting your injury to your employer begins.
Notifying Your Employer of Your Injury
Once you know your injury is related to your work, it is time to notify your employer. While verbally notifying your employer of your injury is valid, it is not recommended that this is the only way you do so. A verbal notice may be “forgotten” by an employer who claims they were never told.
Instead, a written notice is preferred, and it will need to specifically indicate that the injury is work-related — it is not enough to simply report that you are injured. You should also keep a copy of this written notice and the date on which it was submitted for your own records. Additionally, including a note from your doctor which attributes your cumulative injury to your line of work can also help your case.
The help of an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney can be invaluable when it comes to navigating the legal landscape. My name is Geoffrey Hillsberg and I have been solely practicing Workers’ Compensation Law in the State of Pennsylvania since 1995. If you have been injured as a result of your work, contact my law office today.
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.