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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.

What is a Cumulative Trauma Claim?

Many work-related injuries occur over a long period of time. These types of injuries are known as cumulative 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.

Cumulative Trauma in the Workplace

Types of Cumulative Trauma Claims

Cumulative trauma claims that are the result of repetitive motions are common in the following jobs, among others:

  • Grocery store clerks
  • Secretaries
  • Stunt people
  • Physical therapists
  • Hospitality workers
  • Teachers

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. Workplace toxins can take many forms, such as:

  • Gas
  • Vapor
  • Liquid
  • Dust
  • Fume
  • Fiber mist

Such injuries can also result from high-stress jobs, such as:

  • Nurses
  • Healthcare workers
  • Teachers
  • Public safety officers
  • Assembly line workers

On the Orthopedic Side of Cumulative/Repetitive Trauma

Some common cumulative orthopedic injuries include those effecting the following:

  • Neck
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Wrists
  • 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/Repetitive Trauma

Cumulative Trauma Injuries can come from sustained pressence of dustCommon 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.  

Cumulative Trauma Injuries can come from sustained pressence of dustDon'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.

A Cumulative Injury Settlement Can Be Reached

Many workers believe that a cumulative injury settlement is out of their reach, but that is not the case. 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.  

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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