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Workers' Comp: Types of Injuries

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2009 approximately 3.3 million people were injured or sickened and another 4,340 people died because of workplace illnesses or injuries. Worse still, on-the-job injuries and illnesses are underreported — the actual count is likely two to three times greater.

Many employees who are hurt while on the job suffer traumatic injuries, such as cuts, bruises and broken bones from slip and falls or other work-related accidents. Other employees develop repetitive stress injuries, lung diseases like black lung and mesothelioma, and other occupational diseases over a longer period of time from overuse or continued exposure to a harmful substance.

Fortunately, workers' compensation benefits are available to most workers (and survivors of deceased workers) who become injured or ill in the course of employment, whether or not it was the worker's fault. A workers' compensation attorney will fight to get you the maximum benefits available under the law.

Was The Injury On The Job?

In order for an injury or illness to be covered by workers' compensation, the accident or exposure must have occurred at work or within the scope of employment. If you have filed a workers' compensation claim, the employer or insurer might try to disqualify your claim by arguing you were "off the clock" because you were injured when:

  • On lunch break
  • On a coffee break
  • Commuting
  • Traveling
  • Attending a company social event

Even in these cases, workers' compensation often applies. For example, the "off the clock injury" is probably covered if you were with a co-worker, using a company car, or having lunch or coffee in a cafeteria or company break room. Furthermore, as technology makes employees more and more accessible to employers around the clock, the lines are even blurrier.

Workers' Compensation: Traumatic Injury

Every day, thousands of U.S. workers visit emergency rooms for treatment of work-related traumatic injuries (see sidebar). The U.S. Department of Labor defines a traumatic injury as "a wound or other condition of the body caused by external force, including stress or strain. The injury must be identifiable as to time and place of occurrence and member or function of the body affected. It must be caused by a specific event or incident — or series of events or incidents — within a single day or work shift." Sprains and strains, fractures, burns, back and spinal cord injuries, crush injuries, concussions and other traumatic injuries are often the result of:

  • Ladder Accidents
  • Electrocution
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments
  • Transportation accidents
  • Fires and explosions
  • Assaults and violent acts
  • Chemical spills

If you are injured at work you should call 911 or seek medical care right away. As soon as you are released from emergency care, consult a workers' compensation attorney.

Snapshot of Recent Illnesses and Injury Statistics

In 2009, 965,000 employees who filed workers' compensation cases had illnesses or injuries that were severe enough that they missed one or more days of work. Other notable statistics for injuries and illnesses occurring in 2009 in the private sector include:

  • 379,340 cases involved sprains, strains, and tears
  • 195,150 cases involved injuries to the back
  • 212,760 cases involved falls
  • 768 fatalities from highway incidents
  • 579 fatalities from falls
  • 440 fatalities from homicides

Employees or survivors of employees who are injured or sickened on the job should speak to a workers' compensation attorney about their rights to lost income, medical care and other benefits.

Workers' Compensation: Occupational Disease

The U.S. Department of Labor defines occupational disease as "a condition produced in the work environment over a period longer than one workday or shift. It may result from systemic infection, repeated stress or strain, toxic exposure, poisons, fumes, or other continuing conditions of the work environment." Examples of occupational injury or illness include:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, thorasic outlet syndrome and tendonitis. These injuries usually involve overuse or repetitive motion and are often seen in manufacturing, food processing, assembly lines, and computer users.
  • Occupational lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, silicosis, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and coal workers' pneumoconiosis (black lung disease). These injuries are caused by exposure to dust and other toxic materials and are seen in manufacturing, firefighting, mining, construction, sandblasting, and office work.
  • Hearing loss as a result of repeated exposure to loud noise. These injuries are common to agriculture, construction, manufacturing, transportation and service.

Pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated on the job/within the scope of employment are also covered injuries under workers compensation.

Workers' Compensation: Medical Benefits

Medical care necessary to treat work-related illness and injury is fully covered by workers' compensation. This includes, but is not limited to, doctor's visits, diagnostic testing, medications and surgery. Pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated because of employment are also covered. Except for emergency treatment, the treating physician is chosen by the employee, employer, workers' compensation insurance carrier, or the state, depending on applicable state law.

Workers' Compensation Attorney

The time limit to file a claim for a traumatic injury usually commences on the date of the injury. It is more difficult to assign a date of injury to occupational disease but often it is the earlier of the date the worker knew or should have known of the illness. Only an attorney can determine the time limit for submission of your case.