Workers' Compensation for Cumulative Trauma
Not all work-related injuries result from accidents. Many work-related musculoskeletal injuries occur over time and create chronic pain and loss of mobility. They are known as cumulative trauma injuries or repetitive motion disorders.
A worker diagnosed with a cumulative trauma injury or repetitive motion injury resulting from their job duties may have a right to seek workers’ compensation benefits if their condition keeps them from working and requires medical care.
Unfortunately, some employers and insurers will dispute a cumulative trauma workers’ compensation claim because there was no single incident to point to as the cause of the injury.
Cumulative trauma workers’ compensation cases can be challenging to prove. To qualify for benefits in North Carolina, you must provide medical evidence that your job, or the work environment where you are employed, 1) put you at increased risk of developing the condition when compared to the general population and 2) caused your injury. If your employer is not cooperating with you, your best chance of collecting the proper benefits provided by law is to seek the help of a knowledgeable lawyer who specializes in representing injured workers. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-53; Rutledge v. Tultex Kings Yarn, 308 N.C. 85, 93, 301 S.E.2d 359, 365 (1983) and Booker v. Duke Univ. Med. Ctr., 297 N.C. 458, 471-72, 256 S.E.2d 189, 198 (1979).
The experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. in Raleigh, N.C. are ready to help. Contact us today for a free consultation about your injury and your eligibility for benefits. If we handle your case, we won’t charge a legal fee unless we recover compensation for you. Phone 919-661-9000 or reach out online now.
What Is a Cumulative Trauma?
Cumulative or repetitive trauma refers to the damage a body sustains over time as a worker repeats a motion or subjects their body to repetitive stress and strain. Numerous injuries of the musculoskeletal system are caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression or sustained postures. These injuries may be referred to as cumulative trauma or cumulative trauma disorder (CTD).
Your cumulative trauma injury may have been diagnosed as:
- Bursitis. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, small flat sacs of fluid that help tendons and muscles flex over bony areas in the body’s large joints. Bursitis makes movement painful. Bursitis of the shoulder is most common, but overuse can lead to bursitis of the elbows, knees, and hips, as well.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. This painful condition occurs when one of the major nerves connecting the wrist and hand — the median nerve — is compressed by inflammation of surrounding tissue. Individuals may suffer pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand. If pressure on the median nerve continues, it can lead to nerve damage.
- Raynaud’s syndrome. This condition is also known as vibration white finger or hand-arm vibration syndrome. It is caused by forceful gripping and/or prolonged use of vibrating tools and causes numbness and tingling in the fingers, which may progress to loss of sensation and muscle control in the fingers and hands.
- Rotator cuff injuries. The rotator cuff is a cluster of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that stabilize your upper arm bone securely within the shallow shoulder socket. When the rotator cuff is overexerted, inflamed, or torn due to repetitive motion and strain, a worker may experience pain and loss of motion.
- Synovitis or tenosynovitis. The synovium is a connective tissue that lines the inside of joints like the knees, shoulders, and ankles. The synovial membrane produces synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints. Tenosynovitis or tendon sheath synovitis is inflammation of the synovium lining the sheath surrounding tendons in the wrists, ankles, hands, or feet due to overuse.
- Thoracic outlet syndrome. Reaching to perform overhead tasks for extended periods of time can cause compression of blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib. This disorder can cause shoulder and neck pain and numbness in your fingers.
These are but a few of the many cumulative trauma disorders caused by long-term stress and strain to muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and other soft tissue surrounding joints in the body. Treatment typically begins with rest and icing and/or anti-inflammatory pain medication. Patients may be taught pain management techniques and exercise programs to strengthen the tissue and minimize further injury.
If the symptoms persist, the patient may wear braces or splints to support and protect the injured muscles and joints, but it may also require surgery.
Does NC Workers’ Comp Cover Cumulative Trauma?
North Carolina’s workers’ compensation law requires most employers who employ three or more people to maintain insurance that provides benefits to employees who are injured on the job or who suffer an occupational disease in the course of employment.
To establish a claim for an occupational disease, you must prove (1) the job duties significantly contributed to the development of the condition, and (2) the job duties placed you at greater risk of developing the condition than members of the general public not equally exposed. Ordinary diseases that the general public is equally exposed to are not eligible for workers’ comp. Rutledge v. Tultex Kings Yarn, 308 N.C. 85, 93, 301 S.E.2d 359, 365 (1983) and Booker v. Duke Univ. Med. Ctr., 297 N.C. 458, 471-72, 256 S.E.2d 189, 198 (1979).
The primary workers’ comp benefits are payment of all medical bills related to an occupational injury or illness and wage replacement benefits of two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly pay. There are also payments for specific disfiguring injuries and benefits paid to survivors of a worker who dies from an occupational injury or illness.
According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, the average workers’ compensation claim for cumulative injury nationwide in 2018 and 2019 resulted in benefits of $14,905 for medical expenses and $16,468 for lost wages (indemnity).
How To Prove a Cumulative Trauma Injury Is Work-Related
If your employer or their insurer disputes your claim for workers’ compensation benefits, the burden is on you to prove your eligibility. This requires a medical diagnosis and evidence of a link between your job duties and/or work environment and your injury.
When you see a doctor for a work-related injury or illness, you should tell the doctor about your job duties that may have caused your cumulative trauma. Evidence to support your claim may include a job description that details your job duties and testimony from supervisors or other coworkers about your job requirements.
Often, workers with cumulative trauma can speak about job requirements that include:
- Repetitive motion, such as in computer, typing or other clerical work, or production or manufacturing jobs
- Repeated lifting, lowering, reaching, pushing, pulling
- Bending, stooping, twisting, working in awkward positions
- Prolonged use of vibrating tools, such as hand-held power saws, power drills, or chipping hammers.
Generally, the employer or the employer’s workers’ comp insurance provider chooses the doctor to treat the worker or offers a list of doctors to choose from and directs medical care for work-related injuries. You must see the selected doctor and adhere to their treatment plan. You may request a second medical opinion, which may be presented as evidence when appealing a denied claim or refusal to pay certain medical benefits.
If you and the workers’ comp insurance administrator cannot agree on a doctor to give a second opinion, you can file a request that the Industrial Commission agree to accept a second opinion from a doctor of your choice.
How To Proceed with A Cumulative Trauma Claim In N.C.
Once you have been diagnosed with a work-related cumulative injury, it is your responsibility to notify your employer that you need to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. You must give written notice of the occupational disease within two years of the time a doctor informed you that your condition was caused by your work, or within two years of death or disability from the occupational disease. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-58
Never trust your employer to file the claim for you. Do it yourself to be sure it has been done properly. You have up to two years from the latter of the date a doctor told you that your condition was caused by your job, or the date you were first disabled by your cumulative trauma. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-58.
To file for workers’ compensation, submit a Form 18 Notice of Accident with the N.C. Industrial Commission and send a copy to your employer.
Within a few weeks of filing a claim, your employer or its insurance carrier should either accept your claim and begin paying benefits or deny the claim.
Your employer should take care of all necessary work to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for you or contact you with an explanation as to why your claim is being denied. If your claim is denied, you may request a hearing before the North Carolina Industrial Commission to restate your case for benefits. This is the first appeal opportunity in a multi-stage appeals process, which becomes more formal and adversarial at each step. You would be very unwise to go to a hearing without a lawyer who specializes in workers’ compensation. People who represent themselves rarely win.
If your employer ignores your claim for workers’ comp benefits, orders you back to work, or threatens your employment, you should speak to an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible.
Contact Our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Benefits Lawyers
Let the lawyers at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. deal with the insurance company, the Industrial Commission, and the paperwork related to your workers’ compensation claim if you have work-related cumulative trauma injury. We’ll fight to obtain benefits for you, so you can focus on getting your life back together.
Get started today. It costs you nothing to discuss the origins of your cumulative trauma injury with an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. We’ll help you understand the benefits available to you under North Carolina law and how we can seek them for you. Call us now or contact us online for a free claim review and advice about your legal options.