Some of the biggest companies providing jobs for Clearwater residents are healthcare services providers, data and technology companies, and manufacturers of locally-produced products. While these jobs afford residents the ability to earn a livable wage and raise their families in the community, the jobs can often result in repetitive stress injuries.
The strains and sprains associated with repetitive stress injuries are among the most common reasons workers in Clearwater and nationwide file workers’ compensation claims. Here is a look at these types of injuries, the workers’ compensation claims process, and how an experienced Clearwater workers’ comp attorney can help you obtain the benefits you need for repetitive stress injuries.
What Are Repetitive Stress Injuries?
As Cleveland Clinic explains, repetitive stress injuries—also commonly referred to as repetitive strain injuries—involve damage to muscles, tendons, and ligaments caused by repetitive motions and overuse.
This type of injury most often affects:
- Fingers and thumbs
- Wrists and elbows
- Arms and shoulders
Repetitive stress injuries commonly impact workers who have highly physical jobs, as well as those that spend hours performing the same motions over and over, such as computer workers or musicians. Not only do repetitive stress injuries result in stiffness, pain, and discomfort, but they also leave the sufferer open to several other types of conditions, such as stress fractures, herniated discs, or nerve compression syndromes. Repetitive stress injuries involve symptoms such as pain, swelling, numbness or tingling, weakness, and sensitivity to cold or heat.
How Are Repetitive Stress Injuries Diagnosed and Treated?
Repetitive stress injuries are commonly diagnosed through a physical exam and information provided to the physician about the type of work the sufferer does. Diagnostic imaging tests such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, or an ultrasound can also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for repetitive stress injuries generally consists of RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) and can also involve physical therapy to assist the sufferer with regaining strength, flexibility, and mobility. Occasionally, the injury will damage the body and must be repaired surgically.
Seeking Workers’ Compensation Benefits After Suffering a Repetitive Stress Injury
Florida’s workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that most companies in the state are required to provide for their employees. The benefits available through this insurance coverage include the payment of all reasonable medical expenses provided to treat injuries incurred in the workplace, as well as the replacement of income while the injured worker is unable to perform the tasks of their job due to the injury. Workers’ compensation is generally available for workers who have incurred repetitive stress injuries.
The Workers’ Compensation Claims Process
When a person sustains an injury in the workplace, they are encouraged to report it to their employer as soon as possible and seek medical treatment. However, workers cannot simply go to the doctor of their choosing, receive treatment, and send their employer the bill. Instead, the provider they seek treatment with must be authorized by the employer or their insurance company to provide the treatment. Workers have 30 days from the date of injury or the date on which a doctor connects their injury with their job-related tasks to report their injury to their employer.
Upon receiving the worker’s report of an injury in the workplace, the employer must report the injury to their insurer within seven days. The insurance company must provide an informational brochure to the injured worker within three days of receiving the employer’s report that explains the worker’s rights and responsibilities.
If the employer fails to report the injury to their insurance provider, the worker can notify the insurer themselves or hire an attorney to assist them with making that report. They can also seek assistance in making a claim from the state’s Employee Assistance Office by calling (800) 342-1741 or emailing the office at [email protected].
Authorized expenses incurred through the medical treatment of the injury will be paid through the workers’ compensation policy, meaning the injured worker will not receive bills for their treatment.
Seeking Income Replacement Benefits
For the first seven days that the worker misses work due to their injury, they will not receive income replacement benefits. However, if the worker’s injury causes them to miss more than 21 consecutive days of work, the compensation they receive will include income replacement for the entirety of the time their injury forced them to be away from work.
In most cases, the amount of income replacement received through a Clearwater workers’ compensation claim will be two-thirds of their average weekly earnings in the 91-day period immediately preceding the date of the injury or the discovery that the injury was the result of repetitive stress in the workplace, not to exceed the state’s limit, which is determined each year and is equal to 100 percent of the statewide average weekly income, rounded to the nearest dollar.
The claimant should receive their first benefit check within 21 days of reporting their injury to their employer. Temporary total benefits are available for workers who are unable to perform any of the tasks related to their job position, while temporary partial benefits are available for those who are able to execute some work tasks but must work a lower-paying position with the company to accommodate their injuries, or who are placed on work restrictions that reduce the number of hours they are able to work their own position while recovering from their injury.
Temporary total and temporary partial benefits are available for a maximum of 104 weeks.
While employers are legally prohibited from firing a worker attempting to obtain workers’ compensation benefits, they are also not required to hold a position open while a worker is recovering from an injury. If an injured worker discovers their job is no longer available, the state’s workers’ compensation program can also provide reemployment benefits to help them transition to a new job.
Do You Need an Attorney to Receive Workers’ Comp Benefits?
The state’s workers’ compensation program was designed for workers to have quick access to medical treatment coverage and income replacement by working directly with their employer and the employer’s insurance provider. However, many issues can arise while receiving these benefits, making having an experienced workers’ comp attorney necessary.
Some of these issues include:
- Workers who are not covered by a workers’ compensation policy despite their employer being required to purchase this policy.
- Employers who refuse to report the worker’s injury to their insurance provider in a timely fashion or who attempt to punish a worker for seeking these benefits.
- A denial of coverage from the insurance company that services the employer’s workers’ compensation policy. A denial of benefits can occur for several issues, including delayed reporting of the injury, the failure to supply adequate evidence showing that the injury was work-related, a suspicion by the employer or their insurance provider that the injury was faked to obtain benefits fraudulently, or even for simple errors made on the claim form.
- A delay of benefits that were awarded to the claimant or a dispute in the amount of income replacement compensation that the claimant is eligible to receive.
- Disputes on whether the worker has reached maximum medical improvement and is ready to return to work after recovering from their injury.
What Makes Repetitive Stress Injuries Difficult to Claim?
While repetitive stress injuries are among the most common injuries to be experienced in the workplace, the claims for these injuries are often difficult to prove.
Here are some of the reasons for the difficulty:
- These injuries are slow to develop, and the worker often will only realize the cause for their discomfort once they have been in their position for weeks or years. Because no “accident” results in immediate injuries, a worker dealing with repetitive stress injuries will commonly delay treatment until they have been dealing with the discomfort of the condition for a long time. This can lead to disputes as to whether the worker promptly reported their injury to their employer.
- Many activities that a person does outside of work can also result in repetitive stress injuries, so more documentation is often required to link the injury to the type of work the claimant does.
- Repetitive stress injuries generally do not take long to heal if the worker commits to a treatment plan that includes refraining from performing activities that exacerbate the injury. However, if the worker returns to the job without any changes in how their body moves while performing their job duties, the injury is likely to recur. Workers’ comp claims remain open for a year after the last treatment has been received or a final income replacement check has been sent. If the injury reappears after that time and requires the worker to be away from their job for additional time to let the injuries heal, they will have to start the claims process over again.
An experienced Clearwater workers’ compensation attorney understands the type of medical documentation needed to show that the injury resulted from repetitive work activities. Additionally, they are deeply familiar with the claims process and able to look over the worker’s claim to determine if they’ve provided enough information to support their claim. If the claim has already been denied, a workers’ comp attorney can help the claimant to appeal the decision.
Affording an Attorney to Assist You With Your Claim
Just because the workers’ compensation process does not require you to obtain the services of an experienced attorney, that doesn’t mean having one isn’t important to your ability to obtain the benefits entitled to Florida workers. However, many injured workers fail to get legal assistance with the claims process because they don’t think they can afford an attorney.
Workers’ compensation claims fall under the relatively broad umbrella of personal injury law. Injured individuals need assistance in seeking compensation, so the attorneys who help them often use a contingent fee billing method.
The contingent fee billing method means that the claimant does not have to pay for their attorney upfront or pay their lawyer by the hour. Instead, the attorney and the claimant enter into a contingent fee agreement that permits the claimant to wait until they have received compensation to pay for their attorney’s services.
The services an attorney can provide often begin before the workers’ comp claim has been filed, as they provide free case evaluations for injured workers who have questions about the process or are wondering if they need an attorney.
During your free case evaluation, your attorney will explain the workers’ compensation claims process and help you understand the available benefits. After you have been provided with this information, if you and the attorney decide to begin working together on your claim, you will sign a contingent fee agreement.
This agreement outlines the services the attorney can provide you and designates a percentage of any settlement received on your claim as payment for your attorney’s services.
Both lump-sum and structured settlements are available through a repetitive stress workers’ comp claim in certain circumstances, including:
- When the workers’ comp insurer has denied your claim, but an administrative judge decides in your favor.
- The physician treating your work-related repetitive stress claim determines that you have reached maximum medical improvement, but you still are unable to perform the tasks related to your position, and you need the settlement to compensate for permanent disability.
For more information about the benefits available after incurring a repetitive stress injury on-the-job, contact a workers’ comp attorney as soon as possible.