Archive | February, 2016

Cumulative Trauma

29 Feb
What’s the Difference Between a Specific Injury vs. Cumulative Trauma?

 
In general, there are two types of injuries a worker can suffer while at work.  First, there is the “specific injury.”  For example, if you lift something heavy and hurt your back, if you fall off a ladder, or if you are involved in an automobile accident while making a delivery.

The second type of work injury are the “cumulative trauma” injuries.  Cumulative trauma injuries are also known as “repetitive” injuries. These are injuries that happen gradually at work, over a period of time or during a course of repetitive action.  For example, if your job entails continuous heavy lifting and you gradually develop back pain, or if you use your hands repetitively at work and you develop hand/wrist pain, or if you are exposed to toxins and/or chemicals over a period of time and develop respiratory problems.

In addition to the above physical cumulative trauma injuries, an employee can also develop a cumulative trauma psychological injury.  For example, if you are exposed to ongoing stress at work that causes anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, or stomach problems you may have a workers’ compensation claim for a cumulative trauma psychological injury. However, to be eligible in California for coverage under workers’ compensation – such stress must be predominately caused by employment,   which means at least 50% or more caused by work instead of health conditions, family or financial problems, addiction or drug use, etc.  Also if the stress is caused by good faith employment actions, it is not covered under workers’ compensation.

A cumulative trauma injury can also bring on or aggravate a prior injury or condition. For example, someone who had a back injury many years ago and is required to do a lot of repetitive lifting at their current job may have an aggravation in their back symptoms.

In sum, a cumulative trauma injury is an injury which occurs over time.  A cumulative trauma injury is recognized in the California workers’ compensation system.  There have been a significant increase in cumulative trauma claims in the past several years, and now the cumulative trauma claims make up almost 15% of all claims.  Many are not really eligible for coverage but often employers fail to fully investigate and inform their insurance claims department.

Statute of Limitations for Reporting Cumulative Trauma

The rules that define the time limit for bringing a workers’ compensation claim at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board are seemingly straightforward but are wrought with numerous sweeping exceptions. The basic SOL is one year from the date the injury occurred. For specific injuries, the rule is easily applied. However, for cumulative trauma injuries, the rule is not so easily applied. As a general rule (with many intricacies not discussed here), the SOL for a cumulative trauma begins to run on the last date of injuries exposure (the last day the worker was exposed to the occupational hazard causing the health condition). As previously stated, the 1 or one year statute of repose is not without a number of exceptions some of which can be highly factual in nature. Therefore, always consult a lawyer before assuming that an exception exists in your claim.

All states permit some form of such claims, but California is widely seen as the most permissive and lucrative in such awards. When the worker comp claims awards increased in 2010, cumulative injury claims were cited as a cause in a report released in January by the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California.

Do you have questions about Cumulative Trauma Worker’s Compensation? Please don’t hesitate to contact us at Don Dressler Consulting and CalWorkSafety.com. We’re here to help!

 

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