Understanding Cumulative Trauma Injuries…Know Your Rights

By Alvaro Lizarraga, Esq.

The general public commonly believes that work injuries occur as a single specific event such as a slip and fall or being injured while lifting a heavy item. However, work injuries do not always occur as a result of a single event. In fact, many work-related injuries occur over a long period of time. These types of injuries are known as continuous or repetitive trauma injuries. These are caused by a culmination of thousands of insignificant repetitive movements that, by themselves, would not result in injury, but over a period of time cause disability and/or the need for medical treatment. The injuries do not necessarily have to result from repetitive physical exertion but can also result from environmental exposures to toxins, coercive chemicals, exhaust fumes and the like. They can also result from high-stress jobs, such as that of a nurse or a worker who is required to meet stringent deadlines or keep up with standard production requirements.

Cumulative Trauma in the Workplace

On the Orthopedic Side of Cumulative Trauma

Some common cumulative orthopedic injuries include those effecting the neck, back, shoulders, wrists and knees. Workers with jobs that are impacted by such injuries include the order selector in a warehouse who must repeatedly pull and lift orders, or the delivery driver who must constantly push and pull a dolly or a pallet jack full of heavy product that needs to be moved up a ramp or onto a truck.

The Internal Side of Cumulative Trauma

Common internal cumulative injuries can affect the cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems. For example, a truck driver who develops respiratory problems from sitting in traffic for prolonged periods, or the police officer who develops heart disease because of the continued stress.

Unlike a single, specific event that causes injury, which is not hard to miss, continuous trauma injuries are not easily recognized and people usually chalk them up to aging or simply being tired at the end of the day.

The problem is that these conditions usually don't go away, but in fact, worsen over time. People usually become aware of these injuries when it's too late, including reaching a point where the person is reprimanded by the employer because of falling behind or not being able to fully perform the work duties.  

Don't Ignore Tell-Tale Signs

It is important to pay attention to your body and learn how to recognize these types of injuries. They usually start with minor symptoms that worsen progressively as the repetitive work exposure continues. Once a person begins to experience persistent symptoms, it is vital to report them to his or her employer and seek immediate medical attention. Some people are afraid of reporting these types of injuries because they are unsure if the symptoms are work related or fear retaliation from the employer. In those instances, the worker should seek medical attention and make certain that the medical provider clearly understands the repetitive nature of the job. The worker should also consult an attorney if there is any doubt as to what he or she should do.

Time Limitations in Cumulative Trauma Claims

Be aware that there are certain time limitations to filing these types of claims. Generally, the worker has one year from the date of the injury to bring a claim. However, in these types of claims the law states that the date of injury is when the employee first suffered disability and either knew, or should have known, that the disability was caused by his or her employment. The issue of when the injury should have been filed is complicated as there are certain exceptions that apply to these rules. Therefore, it is important for workers to speak with a knowledgeable workers' compensation attorney to ensure they receive the full range of benefits to which they are entitled.  

And although big business is working to get rid of these types of claims, they remain the law in California.
We at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP keep abreast of the latest legal and legislative developments in California's workers' compensation system, and are constantly working on strategies to help ensure the best outcome for injured workers. If you have questions about your legal options, please call 213-739-7000 or click here.

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