Can I File for Workers’ Comp if My Injury Developed Gradually?
While the U.S. legal system can seem very black-and-white, workplace injuries are not. For many California employees, work injuries can develop slowly over time, often leading to serious concern for workers who recognized a chronic or overuse injury after the statute of limitations for workers’ comp had already passed.
If you discovered a chronic injury that developed outside of the statute of limitations, there’s no need to panic. For workplace accidents entailing slow-to-develop injuries or occupational illnesses, there are legal options available for workers to receive needed care and financial support to make a full recovery.
It’s imperative to consult with a trusted workers’ comp lawyer before taking action against an employer, as they can recommend the best legal recourse for your unique circumstances. Keep reading to learn what steps employees can take after discovering a chronic injury outside of California's statute of limitations.
What Is Cumulative Trauma?
When it comes to workers' compensation, “cumulative trauma” refers to injuries that are caused by repetitive mentally or physically traumatic activities over a span of days, weeks, months, or years. These activities can result in short- or long-term disability or necessitate medical care. Cumulative trauma injuries do not occur from a single, specific event, but develop progressively over time due to consistent exposure to certain conditions or requirements of the job. This can include excessive wear and tear on tendons, muscles, and sensitive nerve tissue.
Under Labor Code §3208.1, California is one of the few states that recognizes cumulative trauma within its workers' compensation system. When it comes to workers' comp claims, many are aware that they can file a claim if they suffer from a sudden, acute injury at work—but what if their injuries develop over time? Is workers’ comp still a possibility?
In California, the answer is yes. Below, we explore common types of cumulative trauma injuries and how they apply to workers’ compensation in the workplace.
Overuse Injuries & Cumulative Trauma in the Workplace
Cumulative trauma or overuse injuries develop gradually over a period of time, often due to repetitive motions, prolonged stress, or exposure to certain conditions in the workplace. These injuries often result from the cumulative effect of repetitive activities, rather than a single traumatic incident.
In California, workers' compensation laws recognize and provide coverage for such injuries, acknowledging that they can be just as debilitating as sudden, acute injuries. Common examples of cumulative trauma injuries at work include (but aren’t limited to):
- Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) – RSIs are perhaps the most common type of cumulative trauma injuries. These injuries occur when repetitive motions strain the muscles, tendons, and nerves in a specific body part. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist), tendonitis (elbow, shoulder), and bursitis (hip, knee).
- Back and Spine Injuries – Jobs that involve heavy lifting, repetitive bending, or prolonged standing can lead to cumulative trauma injuries in the back and spine. Conditions such as herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and chronic back pain can develop over time.
- Occupational Hearing Loss – Workers exposed to excessive noise levels over an extended period may suffer from hearing loss. While not immediately apparent, the gradual damage to the inner ear can result in permanent hearing impairment.
- Vision Problems – Certain occupations that require prolonged computer use or close-up work, such as data entry or assembly line work, can lead to cumulative trauma to the eyes. Conditions like computer vision syndrome, eye strain, and dry eyes may develop gradually.
- Occupational Stress – While not a physical injury per se, chronic work-related stress can lead to various health problems, including mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. California workers' compensation system recognizes the impact of occupational stress on an individual's overall well-being.
Statute of Limitations for Cumulative Trauma
In California, the statute of limitations for filing a workers' compensation claim is 1 year from the date of the job-related injury or illness. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule.
For cumulative trauma or occupational diseases, the clock starts ticking on the date when the worker knew or should have known that the injury or illness was caused by work. This could potentially allow a worker to file a claim outside of the typical one-year window if they can prove their injury developed gradually over time due to their work conditions or requirements.
Under California Labor Code §5405, workers are also permitted to file a workers’ comp claim up to 5 years after their injury if the employer-provided medical treatment for that injury. Employees should keep in mind that these laws can be complex and subject to change, making it all the more vital to consult with a qualified workers’ comp lawyer before filing a workers' comp claim for a chronic or overuse injury.
Dependable Representation for Injured Workers in CA
Alvandi Law Group, P.C. has over 75 years of combined legal experience, making us well-equipped to represent the best interests of injured workers in court. If you suffered a workplace accident in Orange County, it's imperative to seek counsel from a qualified workers' comp attorney who can advocate on your behalf and fight to achieve the maximum compensation you deserve.
From construction accidents to machine malfunctions, our seasoned lawyers have extensive experience in a variety of workers’ compensation and personal injury cases alike. Reach out to our office to learn how our team can collaborate closely with you to hold your employer accountable and safeguard your financial security after a workplace accident.
After a workplace injury, asserting your rights is crucial to protect your financial security. Call (800) 980-6905 to request a free consultation with a seasoned workers’ comp attorney in Orange County.