Understanding Cumulative Trauma Claims for Workers’ Comp

What Is a Cumulative Trauma Injury?

When most people think of a work injury, they think of a one-time accident or twisting or lifting the wrong way that causes an injury. However, that’s not the only way to sustain a work injury. Some injuries can’t be attributed to a specific day or time but rather happen over an extended period of time. 

In fact, for workers’ compensation claims, California recognizes two types of work injuries:

  • A single specific injury— for example, you lift a heavy box at work and injure your shoulder
  • A cumulative trauma or cumulative injury—for example, you work for several months lifting 20-pound boxes every day

Cumulative injuries occur from repetitive events and motions. One or a few of these motions alone isn’t enough to result in an injury. However, when an employee performs the same movement over and over again for long periods of time, injuries can occur. 

Workers in nearly any industry, including healthcare, public safety, education, transportation, retail, construction, and hospitality, can suffer cumulative trauma injuries. 

What Is a “Specific” Work Injury?

A specific injury arises from a single accident or injury. It causes a disability or requires medical treatment. Employees are more than likely aware of these injuries when they occur. They are responsible for reporting the injury to their employer as soon as possible after it happens. 

However, with a cumulative trauma injury, there isn’t a single accident or incident to attribute the injury to. The employee may not know that an injury is occurring over time until it’s too late.  

Is There a Statute of Limitations for a Cumulative Trauma Work Injury?

Injured workers have limited time to file a workers’ compensation claim after suffering an injury. If they attempt to file a claim after the statute of limitations has expired, the insurance company can legally deny the claim for that reason. 

This deadline is referred to as the statute of limitations and is one year from the date of the injury for California workers. Such a deadline prevents employers and insurance companies from having to defend a claim after any related evidence is lost or destroyed. But, an injured employee isn’t required to notify their employer about a work injury until they know it was work-related. 

Since it’s challenging for a worker to pinpoint an exact date for cumulative trauma, the statute of limitations needs to be adjusted to account for this variable. If someone learns they have a repetitive use injury a year after they stop working, they should still be able to file a workers’ compensation claim. Thankfully, the law allows for this action to be taken.

How Is the Date of a Cumulative Trauma Injury Determined?

Since a cumulative injury occurs over time, there’s no way to pinpoint a date that it occurred to calculate the deadline for the statute of limitations. Instead, for these types of injuries, the date of the cumulative injury is calculated differently. The date of this injury occurs when:

  • A disability arises. 
  • The employee knew or should have reasonably known that work activities caused it. 

It should be noted that the time period of cumulative trauma exposure is different than the date of the injury of cumulative trauma. No employee should miss out on receiving the workers’ compensation benefits they are entitled to receive just because they weren’t aware of a cumulative injury during the statute of limitations that applies to specific injuries.

Is a Work Injury a Specific Injury or Cumulative Trauma?

The court determines if a work injury is a specific injury or cumulative trauma. Any injury has the potential to be a cumulative trauma, which can include injuries that cause physical harm, such as: falls, cuts, twists, and strains.

Why Does It Matter If an Injured Worker Has a Cumulative Trauma or Specific Injury?

The type of injury a worker is diagnosed with can make a substantial difference in their workers’ compensation claim because if it’s a cumulative injury, it can arise from work with more than a single employer. If there’s a potential that jobs with more than one employer caused a cumulative injury, workers’ comp claims should be filed with both.  

Types of Cumulative Trauma Claims

While specific injuries are often things like burns, broken bones, and lacerations, cumulative trauma injuries include:

  • Back and neck disc herniation
  • Lung and breathing issues related to exposure to dust or chemicals
  • Heart disease from ongoing work stress
  • Tendon disorders, such as tendonitis, bursitis, and tennis elbow
  • Nerve disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, elbow cubital tunnel, and Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or PTSD
  • Hearing issues

How to File a Cumulative Trauma Claim in California?

If you think you have sustained a cumulative trauma injury that is work-related, it’s imperative to know you have rights. You can pursue a workers’ comp claim, no matter how long ago your work-related injury-causing activities were. Since the statute of limitations accounts for these types of injuries, your next step should be seeking medical care to determine if your injury was work-related.

You must follow specific procedures to file a workers’ comp claim. The best way to ensure you are taking the proper steps and have your rights protected is to hire an experienced California workers’ comp attorney.

A Cumulative Injury Settlement Can Be Reached

Many workers’ compensation claims are settled between the insurance company and the injured worker. An attorney can help facilitate a settlement and use their negotiation skills to get you the most compensation possible for your cumulative work injury. Settlements are often the best way to resolve these types of workers’ comp claims.

Contact Us Today for Your Free Consultation

Unfortunately, cumulative trauma cases are notoriously challenging. Workers’ compensation insurance companies like to find every and any reason to deny your claim, which is why they will often attempt to blame your cumulative injury on something else or say it was specific and not reported on time. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation so we can help you seek the compensation you deserve.