Repetitive Motion Injuries - Cumulative Trauma
The State of California’s Labor law provides workers’ compensation to employees that have been injured as a result of their employment. The types of injury which can be compensated under the legislation vary, with claims being essentially different than one another due to many factors which need to be taken into consideration. If you or a loved one has been injured or has a condition which has arisen as a result of their job, our Workplace Injury Attorneys Los Angeles are available to provide a consultation and advice specific to your situation.
As mentioned above, the injuries that an employee may sustain vary due to the nature of their employment, as well as other factors. One of the leading causes for workers’ injuries are repetitive motion injuries, repetitive stress injuries and cumulative trauma injuries. These are all terms that refer to injuries that occur over time due to actions or exposures of the employments itself. The effect of such injuries can have an effect just as significant, or even more than other injuries sustained on the job, sometimes leaving the employee unable to perform his or her duties or even regular daily activities.
When is an injury considered a cumulative trauma?
In the context of California workers compensation law, an injury is cumulative when it includes: “repetitive mentally or physically traumatic activities extending over a period of time, the combined effect of which causes any disability or need for medical treatment.”
It is important to distinguish cumulative trauma injury from a specific injury. A specific injury arises as a result of one single event – such as an accident involving an injury caused by a fall. For cumulative trauma the injury is caused or worsened over time. There is no single incident. Whatever exposure is occurring or damage being done may not be clear until much later.
What do I need to look out for?
When considering a condition that you are suffering from, it is important to also consider whether it has been caused by your employment. Because cumulative trauma does not arise from a single incident, but develops over time, an employee may not know he or she has a cumulative trauma injury until he or she has been advised by their doctor. This means that it could be years after an employee stops working before realizing that a cumulative injury has been sustained.
What types of disabilities can cumulative trauma include?
It can include both temporary disability and permanent disability.
What are some examples of cumulative trauma which can be compensated?
Most common examples of cumulative trauma injuries include:
· Wrist carpal tunnel;
· Elbow cubital tunnel;
· Back and neck disc herniation;
For example: Natalia works as a hairdresser at a salon in Los Angeles for 13 years. She spends the biggest part of her day standing up, and bends her shoulders constantly in order for her to be able to cut her clients’ hair. She gradually starts to feel a pain in the wrist and finds it harder and harder to cut hair with scissors. She also feels a pain in her back and has noticed that it grows stronger each month. When she goes to the doctor, she is diagnosed with wrist carpal tunnel and with neck disc herniation. Her doctor tells her that it is due to the position and movements associated with her employment.
Cumulative injuries are not only limited to joints and back, and other common cases include:
· Lung and breathing issues from exposure to dust/chemicals, such as for mine workers;
· Heart disease from continued stress;
Example: John is a mechanic for 11 years and was continuously exposed to exhaust from vehicles due to the nature of his employment, namely in a garage. As a result, he developed lung cancer. When he went to the doctor, the doctor told John that inhaling all of that exhaust is what caused his cancer.
How can cumulative trauma be diagnosed?
Proper diagnosis with respect to cumulative trauma injuries relies on a detailed medical history and review of symptoms as well as a thorough physical examination of the person who suspects the injury. Specific tests need to be conducted by a medical provider for the injuries that may have been sustained.
How long do I have to bring a claim for workers’ compensation?
As the nature of cumulative trauma injuries are due to the fact that it develops over time and the employee could have been unaware that they have been injured as a result of their work, the time period within which an employee can bring a claim for cumulative trauma injury caused by work starts running only after the employee learns that the injury is a cumulative trauma injury sustained due to the nature of his or her employment.
Therefore, an employee has a period of one year after learning about his or her cumulative trauma injury caused by his or her employment to bring in a claim.
This is also commonly known as the “Statute of Limitations” on cumulative injury. The purpose of moving the date of injury for the Statute of Limitations is to ensure that no employee is barred from getting workers' compensation benefits before he or she is aware they have an injury.
Why is there a “Statute of limitations” and Why do I have to claim within a certain period?
Workers’ compensation benefits are rarely paid by the employer him/herself. Rather, under California law employers need to have insurance with respect to such claims. Respectively, insurance companies do not like to be overly exposed to workers’ compensation claims. The statute of limitations protects the insurance company from being prejudiced by having to defend a claim long after the evidence to defend it is gone. However, an injured worker is not responsible for notifying anyone until he or she knows that the injury was caused by work.
How can cumulative trauma be established?
In order to establish cumulative trauma injury, it must be examined separately and always in context, as the injury is sustained over a long period of time and it can be due to many factors, such as working different jobs, a combination of work duties and daily routine, etc. Moreover, the fact that the injured party may not even be aware of the injury for a long period of time makes it even more difficult, as the period to file a claim for compensation is not set, and the exact time at which the injury originated is hard to pinpoint.
As mentioned above, the one-year period for bringing a claim starts to run only after the employee has become aware of the cumulative trauma and that it has been caused by his or her employment, as it can be hard for an injured worker to know if he or she has a cumulative trauma. However, insurance companies often try to utilize this one year period to their advantage and discourage workers for bringing in claims by confusing them.
This is why it is important that an experienced professional such as a Work Injury Lawyer Los Angeles is contacted, who can guide the worker wishing to make a claim and not allow for confusion on important matters.
If the trauma is cumulative, then how can I determine the date on which I sustained my injury?
Determining the exact date is very difficult, and in some cases even impossible. According to the law, the date of injury of a cumulative trauma is when:
· A disability has been established, and
· The employee:
o Knew the injury was caused by work; or
o Should have known the injury was caused by work.
It is extremely important not to confuse the period during which the employee was exposed to the factors that have caused the cumulative trauma, with the date of injury of a cumulative trauma as calculated in accordance with the law, which is actually the date which is important in terms of bringing a claim.
It is important to note the precise wording of: the date when an employee should have known the injury was caused by work. This qualification is important, and it is often in respect of it that disputes arise between the claimant and the employer or the employers’ insurance company.
Why is it important to distinguish between cumulative trauma and specific injury sustained by the worker?
First, the time period for bringing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits is important. Second, if an injury is a cumulative trauma it may come from more than one employer.
Example: Jane worked as a hairdresser for a salon, which is a part of a big chain in Beverly Hills for 10 years. Then she moved to Los Angeles and worked for a small salon, again as a hairdresser, for 7 more years. She developed severe pains in her wrist and back and had to stop working. Therefore, both jobs could have contributed to her injury.
How can a cumulative trauma claim be filed in California?
If an employee believes he or she has suffered a cumulative trauma claim, it is important to pursue it immediately after this belief arises, regardless of how long ago they stopped working at the job that may have caused the cumulative injury. The first steps to be undertaken include seeing a physician who can confirm or deny the existence of the condition and determine the cause.
Once a confirmation with respect to the condition has been received, it is important to contact a professional who can provide relevant experience and protect the client’s interests.
Our Los Angeles Workers Comp Lawyers would gladly provide any worker who suspects such injury with relevant consultations, legal advice and assistance in bringing in a claim in order to obtain the maximum benefits that you may be entitled to.