There was the clanking crash of tools and equipment as the roofer tumbled down the ladder, landing on his back with a solid thud. It was a sudden and specific accident that happened in the course of his work and resulted in broken bones and ripped ligaments. In other words, it’s a clear-cut case for a workers’ compensation claim.
Consider, however, the plumber who must crouch low into cramped corners grasping and twisting wrenches repeatedly to fit pipes. This is part of his day-to-day work, and over time, his back and arms feel the pinch and the pain. Does he have a workers’ compensation claim?
What is a repetitive stress injury?
The answer to this question isn’t so straightforward with repetitive stress injuries (“RSI” or also repetitive strain injuries, motion injuries, overuse injuries, cumulative trauma injuries, occupational overuse syndrome, or regional musculoskeletal disorders). They are caused by repetitive physical motions, stresses, and postures that accumulate slowly over time to cause soft tissue damage and nerve compression.
RSIs are often sustained in work. The most common types of work that give rise to RSIs are these:
- computer work,
- lab work,
- meat processing, or
- vehicle driving.
Typical diagnoses for an RSI include the following:
- carpal tunnel syndrome,
- epicondylitis (or “tennis elbow”),
- lower back pain,
- trigger finger, and
- rotator cuff syndrome.
Obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for repetitive strain injuries
While repetitive strain injuries are common and well-established occupational injuries, it’s difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for these injuries because it’s challenging to determine causation.
Although most states cover workplace injuries stemming from cumulative injuries, Virginia covers only two types of RSIs: carpal tunnel syndrome and hearing loss. Many employers and insurance companies will fight a workers’ compensation claim for an RSI because they weren’t work-related but instead stemmed from personal risk factors, such as the employees’ age, gender, weight, diabetes, and smoking habits.
What to do if you have a work-related repetitive strain injury
There have been recent legislative efforts to change Virginia workers’ compensation law on RSIs, but even so, like in other states, it’s possible to make a claim for a repetitive strain injury if you can identify a specific starting point for your pain. Sometimes we call this the “snap, crackle, pop” incident, where the injury became apparent.
- See a doctor as soon as possible. Often people overlook RSIs and adopt a wait-and-see approach wherein they hope it will get better on its own. This approach could not only make your recovery more arduous but it could also be more difficult to obtain workers’ comp benefits. The doctor can provide you with information on how to heal and reduce the injury, and you will need documentation from your doctor of the injury, diagnosis, and treatment.
- Build a record. Not only do you want to keep documents from your medical providers, but you will also want to make your own notes so you can establish the causal link between your RSI and your job. Keep track of the hours you work on a particular task, what movements and motions you were doing, when you noticed the pain, how it feels, and when it was relieved.
- Speak to an experienced workers’ comp attorney and then notify your employer. Consulting with an experienced workers’ comp attorney will ensure that you do not torpedo your claim with your own statements. As the success of your claim will depend entirely on the facts and circumstances surrounding your injury, choose your words carefully when notifying your employer of your workers’ compensation claim.
- Report the claim to your employer. You must report the injury promptly and follow the process carefully if you’re to succeed in a claim for a work-related RSI. Provide a written report of the injury and keep a record of it to be eligible for compensation.
Workers’ compensation claims for RSIs are complex and tricky, and they are difficult to prove. You will need a skilled attorney to help you build a strong case. Hunter & Everage is here to help, with experienced workers’ compensation lawyers in Richmond, Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina.