The concept of “workers’ compensation” can summon up images of industrial accidents, but it is more commonly used to help people who have suffered gradual health problems due to constant conditions at the workplace. One common example is repetitive stress injuries, which are also known as repetitive motion injuries or cumulative trauma injuries.
These conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are one of the largest sources of workers’ compensation claims nationwide. Assembly line jobs, in particular, have a high incidence of repetitive motion injuries, including bursitis, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful progressive condition caused by the compression of a key nerve in the wrist, the median nerve. This nerve, which controls the sensations and nerve impulses for much of the hand, passes through a narrow passageway of ligament and bones called the carpal tunnel.
When swelling causes the median nerve to be compressed in the tunnel, numbness, tingling, and pain can result. Left untreated, hand muscles can deteriorate, making it difficult to grasp objects or perform other work with the hands.
Because workers’ compensation covers such a wide range of work-related injuries, an important element in a workers’ compensation case is establishing that the injury occurred on the job. In some cases that is quite easy, but repetitive stress injuries take time to develop, so it is often more difficult to establish that an injury like carpal tunnel syndrome is work-related.
Lost Wages and Medical Bills
Workers’ compensation is designed to pay for injured workers’ lost wages and medical bills. Workers’ compensation will also continue to pay for necessary medical expenses related to an injury after an employee returns to work. Unlike a personal injury claim, though, workers’ compensation does not provide compensation for pain and suffering from the injury. Most any injury, if it occurs on the job, is covered by workers’ compensation, even if the injury was the worker’s own fault.
In many states, if a causal connection between the disability and the person’s work activity isn’t obvious (as it would be from a single incident), the legal burden is on the person making the claim to show the connection by unequivocal medical testimony.
In other words, the injured person must present testimony from a doctor indicating that in the doctor’s medical opinion, the injury was caused by the person’s work. Although other doctors might disagree, the key is that the testimony itself cannot be vague, doubtful, or open to more than one interpretation-in the doctor’s opinion, there must be a clear connection.
Ultimately, a workers’ compensation judge determines if the medical testimony presented shows an unequivocal link between work and the injury.
Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries can take a worker away from his or her job for days, weeks, or even permanently. Accordingly, it is important to both seek medical help and to seek workers’ compensation to help pay for any loss of income and medical expenses.
The Clock Is Ticking
Many state laws limit the amount of time a worker has to notify his or her employer of an injury if the worker wants to receive workers’ compensation benefits – but this can be difficult to determine in the case of a repetitive stress injury. The best idea is to notify an employer as soon as a problem becomes apparent, and seek medical treatment and legal advice from a Houston lawyer shortly thereafter.