I have a cumulative trauma injury. Am I allowed to file a workers’ compensation claim even when I have not sustained a specific accident on the job?
The answer to this question is a resounding “YES!”
Every year, thousands of people suffer from pain as a result of performing repetitive motions at work. In these situations there is no one single incident or accident to point to as the cause of injury. Rather, these types of injuries tend to come on gradually, with symptoms progressively worsening over a period of months or years. The workers’ compensation system refers to these types of injures as “cumulative trauma” injuries, and they are a very common form of work place injury.
Cumulative trauma injuries are as varied as the types of work that are performed in the open labor market. They range from orthopedic injures as a result of climbing telephones poles, building movie sets, lifting boxes, or unloading trucks, to back and neck injures as a result of working day after day in an uncomfortable chair at a non-ergonomic work station. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a very common variety of cumulative trauma injury that can result from repetitive typing on a keyboard. Besides injuring the hands and wrists, the repetitive motion of typing and posturing of the head in front of a monitor can result in injuries to the elbows, shoulders and neck as well.
What is a Cumulative Trauma Injury?
In workers’ compensation law, are cumulative trauma injuries limited to physical injuries of the bones and muscles? The answer this time is a resounding “NO!” A female office worker who suffers from stress and anxiety as a result of being harassed by a supervisor or co-worker may file a workers’ compensation claim and seek treatment for her psychiatric symptoms. If she suspects her hypertension is caused or aggravated by the harassment at work, she has a right to file a claim for the hypertension as well. Both of these conditions—anxiety and hypertension—are cumulative trauma injuries. A male aerospace mechanic with asthma, and who works in a noisy and dusty environment, consults a workers’ compensation attorney, and she files a cumulative trauma injury claim alleging that the aerospace mechanic’s asthma was caused by his cumulative exposure to all the chemicals, solvents, dusts and irritants in the workplace. During their initial meeting, the aerospace worker also tells the attorney that he has constant ringing in his ears, so she files a claim for hearing loss and a condition called tinnitus due to repetitive exposure to loud noises at the plant.
Keep Fighting For Your Rights!
The Constitution of the State of California mandates that a system of workers’ compensation be maintained to fairly address the effects of work place injures. Nevertheless, employers and workers’ compensation insurance companies would like to do away with this very common type of work place injury—the cumulative trauma—and thereby save millions of dollars in medical treatment and compensation due to workers who have sustained legitimate repetitive work injuries. Currently, business and insurance companies are lobbying the state legislatures in California and other states to ban or curtail cumulative trauma injury claims. In California, lobbyist for big business and insurance companies hope to erode the applicability of the cumulative trauma claim by preventing professional athletes from filing repetitive work injuries. But this is just the first step in a broader strategy to ban cumulative trauma claims altogether. The labor community, labor unions, workers, and attorneys who represent them need to stand and fight together to prevent any and all attacks on the viability of the cumulative trauma injury claim.