Suffering Carpal Tunnel On the Job
Every year, millions of injuries happen at work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 2.8 million non-fatal injuries took place at workplaces across the United States in one recent year. Of these, more than 882,000 injuries led to missed time at work. As employees, we rely on our employers to provide a safe workplace. And most of the time, employers do their best to ensure that their employees stay safe. But sometimes, despite employers’ and employees’ best efforts, injuries happen.
Carpal tunnel is one of the most common on-the-job injuries. While many injuries happen because of unsafe practices or hazardous conditions, carpal tunnel is a repetitive stress injury. This means that the injury primarily occurs because of overuse. But other factors can contribute to carpal tunnel including poor body positioning, inadequate office equipment, and improper training. If your job has left you with chronic pain or numbness in your wrists, hands, or arms that a doctor has diagnosed as carpal tunnel, a Florida workers’ compensation attorney can help you learn more about your rights.
What Is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel is a repetitive stress injury caused by pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve is located on the underside (palm side) or your arm and runs from the upper arm down through your hand. A carpal tunnel injury occurs when the median nerve is compressed as it enters the carpal tunnel in the wrist.
Carpal tunnel injuries are caused by repetitive actions. The injury is most commonly associated with office work that requires hours of typing. Workers in construction, manufacturing, skilled trades, and professional sports (particularly tennis), are also at risk of developing carpal tunnel.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel is relatively easy to diagnose based on its symptoms. After an initial consult revealing pain and repetitive stress, a doctor will do an exam to make a conclusive diagnosis. Common symptoms of carpal tunnel include:
- Pain: Carpal tunnel symptoms often get worse over time. What may start as a minor ache may turn into severe chronic pain. The pain may be localized to the wrist, but many times it will extend up the arm and into the fingers. Patients generally report dull, aching pain, as well as stabbing pain, radiating pain, and burning pain. In some cases, the pain may be severe enough to interfere with day-to-day activities including sleep.
- Numbness: According to the Mayo Clinic, numbness will usually occur in the thumb and three adjacent fingers. It will not usually extend to your little finger. In some cases, the numbness will move up your wrist and arm, as well. Activities that require you to move or grip your fingers may exacerbate this feeling.
- Tingling: The Mayo Clinic describes this feeling as little shocks of electricity. Like numbness, tingling can extend up into your arms.
- Weakness: Carpal tunnel can cause you to lose strength in your wrist and hand. This may cause you to unexpectedly drop objects.
Florida’s Laws on Workers’ Compensation
Florida has specific rules regulating which employers are required to hold workers compensation insurance, who can claim benefits, and the compensation a person can receive. In most cases, any employer with four or more employees must have workers’ compensation insurance. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Employers must post information demonstrating their compliance with these laws in addition to the contact information for their workers’ compensation insurance carrier in a location where all employees have access to it.
After an injury, the employee must report their injury to the employer within 30 days. The employer then has seven days to submit the claim to their insurance company. An employee’s failure to meet this deadline may result in their claim being denied, and an employer’s failure to report the injury to their insurance company may result in fines and other legal consequences. The employer also must provide the employee with a list of authorized doctors. An injured employee must see an authorized doctor to receive reimbursement for the cost of treatment.
What to Do After a Workplace Injury
What you do after you are injured on the job can affect your right to file a claim, as well as any compensation you might receive. While the workers’ compensation insurance is designed to help you after a workplace injury, the insurance company ultimately works for your employer—and more accurately yet, it works to provide a return to its shareholders. Consult an attorney to protect your rights if you were injured on the job.
Report the Accident/Injury
The law requires employees to report any injury within 30 days of the date the injury happened or within 30 days of being diagnosed by a medical professional with a workplace injury. Carpal tunnel is a repetitive stress injury, meaning that no single act directly causes the injury. Because of this, you should tell your employer when you start feeling symptoms of carpal tunnel. Your employer should then begin a claim and refer you to a doctor. If you were diagnosed with carpal tunnel by your private physician, you should report the diagnosis to your employer upon returning to work.
Visit a Doctor
Florida law does not allow you to choose your own doctor for an injury you have reported as a work-related injury and wish to have your visits covered by workers’ compensation. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and may run tests to make a diagnosis. After your initial visit, your doctor will likely want to schedule additional appointments.
Follow-Up Care for Your Carpal Tunnel
Follow-up care is important, not only for your own recovery, but also for your workers’ compensation claim. Attend all appointments recommended by your doctor. Be truthful at your appointments and do not try to exaggerate your symptoms. Your medical record will become important evidence in your workers’ compensation claim.
Focus on Your Recovery
The goal of a workers’ compensation claim is to allow you to recover from your injury. If your job causes you pain, your doctor may excuse you from work or recommend limited duties. If you are unable to return to work or are only able to do so in a limited capacity, you will likely receive temporary disability payments.
In addition to following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan, utilize any time off to rest your wrist and hand. Remember, workers’ compensation is a legal claim. Your employer’s insurance company will review your medical records and any other available evidence. In some cases, the adjuster may even look at your social media feed or talk to witnesses. Never participate in activities that may bring the validity of your injury into question.
Common Reasons Why Workers’ Compensation Claims Are Denied
There’s no sugar coating it—an insurance company’s job is to make money. They don’t make a profit if they approve every single claim that comes across their desk. However, workers’ compensation insurance carriers can’t deny a claim without just cause. That’s why you must take the appropriate steps to protect your rights. Some of the reasons your claim may be denied include:
- You did not report the injury soon enough: Florida law requires that workers report job-related injuries within 30 days of the injury or a diagnosis. In most cases, missing this deadline will result in an automatic denial.
- You caused the injury: Your employer may try to deny responsibility for an injury if they believe that the injury was your fault. However, an employer cannot deny a claim for an injury that you may have caused unless they believe you did so intentionally with an intent to commit fraud. If your injury was the result of your failure to use appropriate safety equipment, the insurance company will reduce your compensation by 25 percent.
- The injury did not happen at work: For injuries like carpal tunnel, it is not uncommon for an employer to try to claim that your job was not the primary cause of your injury. For example, if you play tennis, the violin, or have a transcriptionist job on the side, the employer may try to claim that one of these other activities was the actual cause of your injury.
Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel
As we mentioned earlier, in Florida, you are only allowed to get treatment from health care providers authorized by your employer. In most cases, this will mean an initial meeting with a primary care physician. After that, the physician may refer you to a specialist or recommend a course of treatment. Common treatment options for carpal tunnel include:
- Wrist splinting: The first step to treating carpal tunnel will generally involve splinting your affected wrist. Your doctor will likely prescribe a custom-fitted splint to help alleviate pressure on your median nerve. Your doctor may recommend wearing a splint full-time or only during the night.
- Medication: Over-the-counter or prescription medication can help reduce the pain associated with carpal tunnel. Depending on how severe your pain is, your doctor may want you to start with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like Tylenol and ibuprofen. If these are not effective, your doctor may prescribe steroids or pain relievers.
- Steroid injections: Steroid injections reduce inflammation, which in turn can reduce pain. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that steroid injections provide long-term relief for about one-third of patients with carpal tunnel symptoms.
- Physical therapy: In many cases, a doctor will recommend physical therapy as part of your treatment plan. Your physical therapist will guide you through exercises that will stretch and relieve pressure on your hands and wrists. The therapist will usually show you techniques that you can use at home between sessions. Other treatments may include hot or cold therapy or massage.
- Surgery: Your doctor may recommend surgery if other forms of therapy prove to be ineffective. A surgeon will perform a carpal tunnel release operation. The surgery will increase the size of the carpal tunnel and release pressure on the median nerve. It can take two to 12 months for you to regain complete function of your hand after surgery.
Compensation for Your Injuries
An insurance company considers many factors when calculating a workers’ compensation settlement. In many cases, the employee will receive payments as they go as well as a final settlement. Common included costs are:
- Medical bills: As long as you go to an authorized physician, all of your medical bills should be covered by workers’ compensation. This includes doctor visits, physical therapy, medical devices, and medication. You can also ask for reimbursement of your travel expenses to and from your appointments.
- Lost wages: If you miss work because of your injury, temporary disability payments can help make up for lost income. These payments will be equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wage, but no greater than the state’s maximum weekly compensation rate. Workers are eligible to receive these benefits until they return to work or their case is closed but no longer than 104 weeks. If you can return to work in a limited capacity, you may qualify for partial payments.
- Vocational retraining: In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you do not return to work. If this is the case, you will need to find another job that you can successfully perform with your injury. However, if you cannot find a job for which you are qualified that pays you at least 80 percent of what you made before the injury, your employer is required to offer vocational training services. During this training period, you will continue to receive temporary disability payments.
- Disability: If your injury results in permanent impairment, your doctor will issue an impairment rating. The insurance company will use this rating to determine an appropriate final settlement.
A Florida Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Can Help You Fight for Your Rights
Carpal tunnel can make simple tasks like eating and driving painful. There’s no need to suffer. If you are injured on the job, it is your legal right to pursue medical treatment and compensation for your injuries. At Dolman Law, we take your injury seriously and we believe your employer should, too. Whether you have carpal tunnel diagnosis or are experiencing carpal tunnel symptoms, you have rights. If you have questions about an ongoing claim or need help starting a new one, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for more information.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900