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How are cumulative injuries compensated?

carpal4.JPGCalifornia Workers' Compensation law recognizes that not all injuries occur in a single moment, that some develop over time. These two kinds of injury are labeled specific (those that occur in a single action) and cumulative (those that build up over a continuous period).

Specific Injury Examples

  • Broken vertebra from a forklift backing up
  • Fractured skull from a fall in a retail store
  • Hearing loss caused by a sudden explosion
  • Herniated disk caused by unloading a truck
  • Electrical burn
  • Falls and falling objects
  • A hand injury at a job site
  • A nail gun puncture

Cumulative Injury Examples

  • Asbestos-related disease
  • Chemical exposures
  • Hearing loss caused by noisy equipment
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome in a cashier
  • Backache in a nursery worker
  • COPD caused by bad office air
  • Patellar tendonitis in a carpenter
  • Work-caused psychological problems, such as PTSD

The problem with these two categories is that one is very easy to identify and diagnose, and therefore simple to compensate for; and the other is by its nature more complex, and resistant to simple compensation.

Many cumulative injuries arise from either repetitive stress, overuse or overexertion.

Cumulative injury problems can develop so slowly that they don't seem to be serious. The worker's attitude is usually, "I can work through this." Eventually, the pain and dysfunction become too much to bear, and the worker can no longer work.

Apportionment of injury

Because the injury develops over time, including time away from work, there is often concern about apportionment of injury. The cashier may have done repetitive work at home or in a part-time job. The person who lost hearing over time may have been exposed to loud noises somewhere else.

Under California Workers' Compensation law, workers with cumulative injuries are entitled to benefits regardless of where the injury occurred, provided their work was at least partly responsible for the injury.

Obviously, when you come down with a cumulative injury, there is a greater chance that your claim will be denied outright or delayed while the problem is studied. To receive the proper compensation, you need to prove your case. This is when you need the services of a law firm that is familiar with the complexities of cumulative problems.

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