A Santa Rosa workers’ comp attorney can help employees whose employment caused a cumulative injury
Cumulative injuries present some of the most complex issues in California’s workers’ compensation system. Having the advice of a Santa Rosa workers’ compensation lawyer is the key to obtaining a favorable outcome in a claim which addresses cumulative injuries.
What Are Cumulative Injuries?
Many workplace injuries are the result of a single incident or accident. For example, falling off a ladder may cause a broken arm. In those cases, the date of injury is usually easy to determine. The date of injury is important because it triggers certain deadlines and can have an effect on the benefits that are payable.
A cumulative injury is one that occurs over a period of time. A repetitive stress injury, caused by engaging in the same motion over and over, is an example of a cumulative injury. Each individual motion may contribute only slightly to the injury, but the cumulative effect of those motions over time can cause a serious injury. Defining a precise date on which a cumulative injury occurred is difficult because the onset is gradual.
Diseases caused by exposure to a toxic substance at work might also be cumulative injuries. While a single exposure to a toxic chemical might cause injuries (such as scarred lung tissue) in some cases, a disease or impairment might also develop over time as the result of repeated exposures to substances in the workplace. Again, the cumulative effect of the exposure makes it difficult to define a specific date on which the injury or disease occurred.
Are Cumulative Injuries Compensable in Workers’ Compensation?
Nearly all physical injuries are compensable under California’s Workers’ Compensation scheme if the injury is work-related. The same compensation is available whether the injury was caused by a single incident or developed gradually as a result of repeated actions or exposures. About 18% of all workers’ compensation claims involve cumulative injuries.
In some cases, however, it may be difficult to prove that a cumulative injury is work-related. When a broken arm is caused by a fall from a ladder, the cause of the injury is obvious. When a back injury is caused by repeated bending and twisting at work, an employer may argue that something other than one’s work caused the injury.
How Can I Prove that a Cumulative Injury Is Work-Related?
It is usually possible to link a cumulative injury to job duties by explaining or demonstrating those duties to medical professionals. When the injury is caused by workplace exposure to a toxic substance, it is usually possible to establish that the employee was frequently exposed to the substance at work and rarely or never encountered it anywhere else.
Still, proving a cumulative injury claim can be trickier than proving a claim arising from a single accident or incident. Workers’ compensation insurance companies are more likely to challenge cumulative injury claims. One study found that California employees with a cumulative injury claim were four times more likely than other injured workers’ to hire a lawyer to help them pursue a workers’ compensation claim. That’s probably because claims administrators are more likely to resist paying a cumulative injury claim unless the injured worker is represented by a lawyer.
Are Cumulative Mental Injuries Compensable?
Emotional distress caused by an employer’s or coworker’s constant abuse can be disabling. In many cases, that disability will be regarded as a cumulative injury since the impact on the employee worsens over time.
As a general rule, cumulative psychological injuries are compensable, but they are routinely denied by skeptical claims administrators. Injured workers’ will generally need to fight to collect benefits for mental health injuries caused by work conditions. Since the claim will probably be challenged, having a Santa Rosa workers’ compensation lawyer will improve the employee’s chance of prevailing.
As a general rule, compensation is available only when workplace stressors play a greater role in causing the injury than the combined effect of all other stressors in the employee’s life. An exception to that rule exists when the mental injury results from witnessing violence in the workplace. A workers’ comp attorney can help injured workers understand whether they might be eligible for compensation for emotional injuries that developed over time.
What Is the Date of the Injury?
An injured worker may be considered to have a compensable claim for a cumulative injury when they miss work because of the injury or receive medical treatment for it. It is also important to determine when the injured worker knew or should have known that the injury was work-related. An injured worker may lose the opportunity to bring a successful claim by waiting too long to report it to the employer once the work-related nature of the injury becomes known (or should have been known).
In many cases, an injured worker will not know that an injury is work-related until a doctor explains the likely cause of an injury. An injured worker who receives that information but does not tell his or her employer is risking the loss of valuable rights provided by California’s workers’ compensation system.
Bringing an injury claim after being terminated from work can be particularly difficult. It is best to notify the employer of a work injury as soon as the worker suspects that pain or some other physical or mental impairment is work-related.
It can be very difficult to obtain workers’ compensation for a cumulative injury without legal assistance. You can discuss your cumulative injury claim with a workers’ compensation lawyer at Santa Rosa’s Kneisler & Schondel by calling (707) 542-5132. You can also ask us a question by submitting our online contact form.