One of the more confusing issues in a Minnesota work comp claim is what constitutes an “injury”. If you fall off a ladder and break your arm while at work, we would all agree that you had a work injury. If you wrenched your back lifting a heavy box at work – again, that is pretty clearly a work injury.
But what if you are pretty sure your sore back (or knees, neck, shoulder, etc) was caused by your job duties but you never had a specific work injury? Are you still covered by workers’ compensation? The short answer is YES, but you may have to prove it if the insurance company denies your claim.
Over the years I have had many, many clients tell me they had no idea they had a work comp claim because they had never suffered a specific injury. I have met with people who have undergone major back surgeries and never knew the claim could be turned in to work comp. The same goes for shoulder injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck injuries, worn-out knees, hips, ankles and a number of other conditions which can be very painful and disabling.
These are referred to as “repetitive work injuries” or Gillette injuries. The term repetitive work injury simply means that your medical or disabling condition occurred gradually over time, instead of from a specific, single incident. They are also called “Gillette injuries”, because of a 1960 Minnesota Supreme Court case, Gillette v. Harold, Inc, which decided that work injuries can occur as a result of repetitive or cumulative “minor trauma” caused by performing ordinary job duties.
What should you do if you have an injury or medical condition which you think might have been caused by your work activities?
The first thing you should do is notify your employer, by filling out an injury or incident report. If you fail to do so, the work comp insurance company may have a defense to the claim later on, by claiming that you did not give notice of your injury or condition, even when you realized it was probably related to your work activities.
The second thing you should do is see your doctor or chiropractor and explain in detail how you believe your problems are related to your work activities. For example, if your job involves a lot of lifting, twisting and bending which seems to give you low back pain, make sure you tell your medical provider. If it doesn’t show up in the medical records, it may be difficult for you to prove your claim later on.
Some examples of repetitive or Gillette injuries
A very common claim is a back or neck injury caused by physically demanding labor such as heavy lifting, frequent bending, twisting or working in awkward positions. The problem may start as just an occasional sore back but gradually worsen over time. Ultimately, you may end up unable to work and needing significant medical care and treatment, possibly even surgery. (See our case report for a good example)
Another typical claim would be where someone develops carpal tunnel syndrome or elbow problems from repetitive activities involving the use of the hands and arms. We have seen this type of injury in our clients who do repetitive gripping, grasping, twisting activities and gradually develop pain or soreness in the hands and arms. (See another case report for this type of claim)
These are only two common examples. We have also represented people who suffered gradually occurring injuries to knees, ankles, hips, shoulders and other body parts from physically demanding, repetitive jobs. . There are nearly as many examples of repetitive injury claims as there are types of jobs.
Are work comp benefits different for repetitive injuries?
No. An injury is an injury, no matter whether it was specific or repetitive. You are entitled to exactly the same wage loss, medical and vocational benefits under Minnesota work comp laws, no matter what type of injury you have. The only real difference is that repetitive injuries can be more difficult to prove and easier for the insurance company to deny.
What we recommend
If you suspect that your work activities are causing, or aggravating, a medical condition which affects your ability to work, feel free to contact us for your absolutely free consultation. Whether or not you have already given notice to your employer, we are happy to answer any questions you might have and give you our opinion about whether you might need a lawyer. If you have given your employer notice of a potential injury claim and have had no response from the work comp insurance company in more than 30 days, that would also be a good time to contact us for more information about your options. If your claim is denied, proving a repetitive injury claim can be tricky and requires the strong support of your treating doctor.
Workers’ compensation insurance companies (like all insurance companies) don’t pay anything more then they absolutely have to. If you don’t make a claim, they won’t even know about it. If you give notice of a repetitive injury claim they may simply ignore it and hope that you go away– and a lot of injured people do. A little bit of information can be very helpful to you in deciding whether to pursue a claim or hire a lawyer. Contact us anytime and let us help.
Thanks for visiting our blog and please spread the word that we are a good source of work comp information for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.