What happens to my Workers’ Compensation benefits if I die?

What happens to your Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation benefits if you die?

Husband and wife workers' compensationIn a typical case where a worker is receiving workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits for a work injury, all benefits stop upon that worker’s death. This is not to be confused with the case where an employee is killed at work. When an injured worker dies as a result of his work injury, there may be benefits available to any dependents and a lawyer should be involved immediately. But that is the subject for another post. If a loved one was killed at work, please call our office right away to schedule a free consultation.

The important point is that there is no general right for the surviving spouse or children to continue receiving workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits after the death of the injured worker, provided the injured worker’s death wasn’t work-related. This can have a devastating economic impact on the surviving spouse, who is already grief-stricken and then saddled with economic hardship from the spouse’s work injury.

I remember vividly the sad case of a young man that I represented many years ago. We negotiated a settlement for him, but he decided not to settle. A few months he came back and had changed his mind, and we were able to reopen negotiations. Sadly, within a few months of the settlement, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Fortunately, however, since his case was settled, his widow at least had some funds in the bank as a result of the previous settlement. Had he not settled, she would have received nothing after his unexpected passing.

There are many factors to consider in deciding whether or not to settle your workers’ compensation case. At Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager, we offer a free consultation to discuss your injury claim. There are many reasons why a settlement of a compensation claim may or may not be advisable. Providing some peace of mind to your spouse may be a factor that you had not previously considered. If you wish to speak with one of our Erie lawyers. call us at 814-452-6232.

I’ve been named Executor in a Will. What do I do now?

What do I do if I’ve been named “executor” in a will?

What's next after being named executor in a willWhat should you do after being named executor in a will? The first answer to this question should be another question: “do I want to serve as executor?” No one is required to accept this responsibility. Should you wish to decline, you can sign a document called a “renunciation.” This would enable either an alternate executor named in the will to serve, or to allow another authorized party to petition to become the administrator of the estate.

What is an executor and what are his or her duties? First, the term “executor” typically refers to a male; “executrix” is the female form. The more modern term is “personal representative,” which generically refers to an executrix, executor, administrator or administratrix. The term executor simply refers to a person appointed in a will; for persons who die without a will, the term “administrator” is used.

The duties of a personal representative are essentially to gather the assets of the deceased, convert them to cash if appropriate, and pay the decedent’s debts and inheritance taxes. Finally, the personal representative will distribute the balance to the beneficiaries named in the will, or if no will, to the decedent’s heirs as set forth by law.

While it is not necessary to have a lawyer assist the personal representative in administering an estate, it is certainly advisable. There are many ways that an attorney’s advice can save the estate money, and protect the personal representative from the many pitfalls in administering an estate.

As a few examples of the type of issues facing a personal representative, the first is providing notice to the beneficiaries. The law requires certain persons to receive notice of the administration of an estate, and a lawyer can determine who needs to receive notice. Failure to provide notice could potentially expose the personal representative to liability in the future.

Next, a decision needs to be made as to whether or not to advertise the estate. While not strictly required by law, advertising is beneficial because the purpose of the advertising is to cut off claims of creditors. However, in some situations, typically where there is a sole beneficiary who perhaps had a power of attorney for a parent and is very familiar with their affairs, the cost of the advertising can be saved.

It is the personal representative’s responsibility to file and pay any inheritance taxes due. There are many issues dealing with inheritance tax that most people are not able to handle on their own. Just as an example, in Pennsylvania, there is a 5% discount to the extent that inheritance taxes are paid within three months of death. This may not be possible if there are not sufficient liquid assets, but an attorney can assist in estimating the tax, which can result in significant savings to the beneficiaries.

There are many other issues facing a personal representative. One of these issues is whether or not to take a fee. The personal representative is entitled to be paid from the estate for their services. However, this is not always advisable because the personal representative will need to pay income taxes on their fee, which could be greater than the savings in inheritance taxes to the estate.

Other issues confronting a personal representative are whether or not to make an “at risk” distribution. This is any distribution made before one year has passed from the advertisement of the estate. Such a distribution is “at risk” because if claims of creditors later arrive, the personal representative may have personal liability for these claims.

One of the more difficult issues to deal with is that of an insolvent estate. This is where the debts are greater than the assets. It is still necessary to file an inheritance tax return even though no tax will be due. It is also important that no debts be paid until all debts are known. This is because, by law, certain classes of debts have greater priority than others in being paid. It is the personal representative’s responsibility, with advice from their attorney, to only pay those creditors that are entitled to payment.

At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we would be pleased to discuss your situation. In most cases, it will benefit a personal representative to have representation by a skilled attorney.

Can I file a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Pennsylvania if I was hurt in another state?

If I live in Pennsylvania, but I was hurt in another state, can I still file a workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania?

out of state workers' compensation claimWe often get asked by Pennsylvania residents—hurt in other states—if they can file their workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania. The answer to this question is “maybe.” Pennsylvania (and most states) provide that you may file a claim if you were hurt while working here or if you were hired here. So, for example, if you live in Pennsylvania, but were hired by a factory in Ohio and commute there every day, the answer is that your claim must be filed in Ohio.

However, if you were hired by a construction company and are injured while working on a project in New York, you can (and probably should) file your claim in Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, Pennsylvania benefits are better than both those of Ohio and New York. Of course, individual circumstances may vary.

Thus, the general rule is that if you were hired in Pennsylvania, and were injured in another state, it is necessary to examine the benefits in that state to determine if you should file in Pennsylvania or where the injury occurred. Please note also that some employers, notably trucking companies, often have employees sign agreements to file compensation claims in a certain state, often Indiana, which has laws that are very unfavorable to injured workers.

While these agreements are generally valid, we are happy to review your case to determine if there is some reason that it may not be enforceable. Any time there is a difference between the state of hire and the state where the injury occurred, it makes sense to seek legal advice to determine how best to proceed. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we are happy to review your injury claim with no cost or obligation. Give one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys a call at 814-452-6232 for a free sit-down consultation!

Can I Transfer a Workers’ Compensation Case to Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation JurisdictionTransferring a Workers’ Compensation Case to Pennsylvania can Increase your Wage Benefits

Even if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, you can probably still file a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation claim under a number of different circumstances. “Jurisdiction” is the legal term which simply means which court or state has the authority to decide a claim. Pennsylvania law gives workers’ compensation judges jurisdiction over workers that were injured in Pennsylvania or hired in Pennsylvania.

Transferring your Ohio or New York Workers’ Compensation case to Pennsylvania

Being located in Northwestern Pennsylvania, we often represent workers’ compensation clients who live in Ohio or New York and were injured while working in Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, Pennsylvania benefits are better for an injured worker than either of these two states. So if you are hurt in Pennsylvania, you should make sure that your claim is filed here.

We have had a few cases over the years, particularly for New York residents, where the insurance company was paying the client under New York law. In this situation, we are generally able to improve upon the client’s benefits by transferring the claim to Pennsylvania.

Transferring your Indiana Workers’ Compensation Case to Pennsylvania for Injured Truckers

We also see many cases of injured truck drivers or construction workers who may live hundreds of thousands of miles away but are injured in Pennsylvania. In most cases, it makes sense to file the claim in Pennsylvania. Some workers, particularly truck drivers, may have signed an agreement providing that workers’ compensation claims must be filed in a certain state. Often this state is Indiana, which has very unfavorable compensation laws—at least for the employee. Generally, these agreements are enforceable, but each case is different and needs to be reviewed individually.

As mentioned, Pennsylvania has jurisdiction either when a worker is injured or is hired in Pennsylvania. Most states have similar laws. In some instances, a worker who was hired out of state and is working in Pennsylvania may be able to obtain better benefits by filing the claim in their home state. For example, Pennsylvania compensation law often denies benefits to “seasonal workers.” (Please note that this is a complicated topic in and of itself. By way of simple example, a “peach picker” is likely a seasonal employee, a dishwasher hired for the season is not.) In one memorable case, we represented a seasonal worker who was not entitled to benefits. Since she was hired in Michigan and transported to Pennsylvania to work, she was able to file for benefits in Michigan. The Pennsylvania employer, thinking nothing of it, ignored the Michigan paperwork. To his surprise, he was later confronted with a judgment which we transferred to Pennsylvania, forcing the Pennsylvania employer to pay the claim.

The important takeaway is that if you are injured in Pennsylvania, we offer a free review of your case to determine if you can file your claim here and if that is to your benefit. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we are always happy to discuss your claim without cost or obligation.

Do I need a lawyer if the insurance company offered me a settlement?

Do I need a lawyer if the insurance company is offering me a settlement?

Why do I need a lawyer?Let me answer that question with a question: Would you perform surgery on yourself? Settlement of a legal claim is a serious matter. It usually pays to have help from an expert; a review of your case by our firm is free.

Insurance companies usually want to settle quickly. The reason for this is they know that, in some cases, injuries become more serious over time. There are many examples of this. One known medical phenomenon is the masking of pain in one area of your body due to an injury in another. For example, you may have hurt both your neck and a knee in an automobile collision. The knee pain might be so severe that you don’t realize that you also hurt your neck until the knee pain subsides weeks, or even months, following the injury. We have had several cases of minor head trauma which, quite some time following the injury, turned out to have aggravated an aneurysm.

If you settle your case before the full extent of your injury is known, there is likely nothing that can be done for you if additional injuries are later discovered. In one notable case, we represented a client whose head trauma did indeed result in a ruptured aneurysm. However, when we contacted the insurance company, we found out that our client neglected to tell us that he signed a general release shortly after the accident for one hundred dollars. He gave up what was likely a six figure settlement for less than the cost of a week’s groceries.

Is it too late to get a lawyer if I already signed a release?

Please note that Pennsylvania law does impose some restrictions as to when and where a general release may be signed. In very rare instances, it may be possible to set aside a release that a client has signed, but this is unusual indeed. If you have signed a release while in the hospital, within 15 days of your injury, or while incapacitated in some fashion, please contact us to review the circumstances of your case.

Can a lawyer get me a bigger settlement?

The most important reason, however, for having legal representation is to make certain that you receive an adequate settlement. We often meet with clients who have received an offer from an insurance company. Occasionally a fair offer is made and we will tell you if we don’t think we can improve upon it. However, it has been our experience that even after payment of legal fees, the net amount that the client receives is usually greater than what the insurance company had offered. Often the net result to the client is substantially better, even after payment of legal fees. So in effect the client has the benefit of having a lawyer and it effectively costs nothing in circumstances where the net result is better than the insurance company’s offer.

Why is this true? You don’t need to accept our experience alone. Let me quote from a book that is little known outside the insurance industry. It is called An Introduction to Liability Claims Adjusting by Corydont Jons. This is a book that has been used in training courses for insurance adjusters. Let me quote from the text:

If you have offered everything the case is worth, there is no more to offer. The case has no increase in value simply because an attorney has been engaged. Therefore, the widely recognized principal: “Never spend your top dollar until you think you can buy something with it.” This dictates caution and restraint in one’s final offer to a claimant.

The author is correct that merely because you have a lawyer your case is not made more valuable. However, insurance companies recognize that when they make an offer, the person receiving the offer may hire a lawyer. Once an attorney is retained, the client will usually not settle unless they net at least what they were originally offered. Therefore, if the insurance company wants to settle the claim, they will have to pay more.

While we usually are able to improve upon what the client has been offered, of course there is no guarantee. There may be facts that come to light that affect the value of the case one way or the other. Even if the client does not realize any improvement over what the insurance company had offered, they have received the benefit of professional representation. The client may have other issues or concerns beyond the settlement of the claim. The client may have concerns about future medical bills or providing for their family in the future. These are types of things which the other party’s insurance company couldn’t care less about, but our lawyers will be glad to help you with these concerns.

When should I hire a lawyer?

Remember that the best time to retain a lawyer is as soon as possible after an injury. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett we are always happy to provide a free evaluation of your claim. If you have received an offer from an insurance company, it makes sense to contact us to review if your offer was fair. Once we review everything that is known about your case, we will likely advise one of three steps to take:

  1. The offer is reasonable and you should accept it;
  2. We think there is a good possibility we can do better; or
  3. Further investigation is necessary to determine whether it is a fair offer.

If you’re curious as to whether or not you are being offered a fair settlement, call our firm today for a free consultation. We’ll let you know.

Hard Facts Make Hard Cases

Some personal injury cases are an uphill battle. Our law firm takes the hard cases.

There is a saying among lawyers that “when the facts are against you, argue the law; when the law is against you, argue the facts; when both the law and the facts are against you, just argue.” There is a lot of wisdom in this saying. First, it illustrates the importance of having accurate facts. When a lawyer renders an opinion, it is based on the facts as they are presently understood. If a critical assumed fact turns out to be wrong, that can change an opinion previously given. The saying also shows the importance of having a thorough understanding of the law as applied to the facts of the case. Finally, the saying is reflective of the lawyers’ duty to his or her client. The rules of professional conduct require a lawyer to advocate their client’s position “zealously.” The adage “just argue” may apply more in the criminal law field than to personal injury. In representing a criminal defendant, a lawyer often finds that both the facts and the law are very unfavorable.

Despite the fact that many clients think their lawyer can work a miracle, in the civil law field, which is anything other than criminal, the lawyer always has two big obstacles to overcome: the judge and opposing counsel. If there is a problem with the facts or the law in your case, you can count on opposing counsel to point out those deficiencies. A judge will know your case is weak if there is a problem with either the facts or the law.

What makes a personal injury case more difficult?

I have always said that it is much more difficult to be a plaintiff’s lawyer than a defense lawyer. Representing the plaintiff, you have to be right about everything. A defense lawyer only needs to be right about the one hole in your case, whether it happens to be a critical factual dispute or a legal ambiguity.

That said, there is rarely a perfect case from the plaintiff’s point of view. Witness stories will vary leading to a dispute over a critical fact. Conflicting decisions from different courts may result in an ambiguity in the law. There is nearly always a dispute over the extent of injuries, or the impact of those injuries on the plaintiff’s life. The critical element is having the experience to know which deficiencies in a case can be overcome, and which will result in a dismissal. Of course, no lawyer can ever be 100% accurate in their opinions. There is another adage that every litigator will attest to, which is that “I have won cases that I expected to lose and I have lost cases that I expected to win.”

Many lawyers shy away from what appears to be a difficult case. Some law firms only want you as a client if you were rear-ended while stopped at a red light. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we pride ourselves on being able to analyze cases that have very difficult facts. We have a track record of succeeding many times with cases that have been rejected by other law firms.I will discuss a few specific examples.

Example One: Obtaining Workers’ Compensation for an injured Horse Jockey

Injured Horse JockeyAlthough all of these cases are a matter of the public record, the specific facts have been changed in order to protect the identity of the client. One case that comes to mind is that of a female exercise rider at the local horse racetrack. Exercise riders typically are freelancers, meaning that they may ride for several different trainers. We represented an exercise rider who was seriously injured when thrown by a horse. Ordinarily, an independent contractor is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, under the law, if facts can be developed showing that the relationship is more of an employer-employee one, then it may be possible to collect workers’ compensation benefits. In this case, we were able to develop that the exercise rider worked on a regular basis for the same trainer, the trainer provided specific instructions as to how to exercise the horse and generally exerted control over the rider. Through thorough legal research we also located an obscure workers’ compensation decision that awarded benefits to an exercise rider. On top of all the difficulties of the case, the trainer was uninsured. As a result of properly developing the facts and the law, we were successful in obtaining benefits from the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund.

Example Two: Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Settlements for Trucker that hit a Farm Animal

In another memorable case, we represented a truck driver who struck a bridge abutment. He was very seriously injured and there was no question that he was entitled to workers’ compensation. The collision was caused by our client striking a cow that was loose on the road. With this seemingly impossible set of facts, not the least of which was whether or not our client should have been able to see and avoid the cow, we were able to obtain a substantial recovery for him. We did this through an exhaustive investigation which, among other things, developed that the owner of the animal had neglected to close the pasture gate on the evening of the collision. Ordinarily, when a worker obtains a settlement from a third party, the workers’ compensation insurer is entitled to their money back. However, in this case, we were able to negotiate a substantial settlement from both the farmer’s liability insurance and the workers’ compensation carrier.

Example Three: Settlement for Slip-and-Fall in a Grocery Store

In another case with difficult facts, we represented a woman who slipped and fell on a broken jar of pickles at a grocery store. A grocery store is not liable for such an occurrence unless the plaintiff can establish that the store had notice of the hazard and had ample time to clean it up. While many law firms would summarily reject such a case, we were able to develop evidence that another customer had actually reported the hazard several hours before the injury. We were able then to negotiate a very good settlement for our client.

Our law firm takes the hard cases that other firms reject.

When a lawyer chooses to accept or reject a case, it is simply a matter of opinion. If we reject a case, we feel we are actually benefiting the client by saving them the agony of pursuing an unsuccessful claim. However, we do take seriously our ethical obligation to not lightly reject a client’s case. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we are always happy to provide a free case review—no matter how difficult the case may first appear. Even if you have been turned down by another lawyer, we may be able to help. We treat clients the way that we would like to be treated if we were the client.

What is a Contingent Fee?

How much is a contingent fee?

Contingent Fees are the Poor Man's Key to the Courthouse
Contingent Fees are the Poor Man’s Key to the Courthouse

A contingent fee is a fee that is contingent upon a recovery; that is, the lawyer’s fee is only paid when the lawyer successfully obtains a recovery. In a typical workers’ compensation, personal injury, or car accident case, the fee is completely contingent, meaning that the client pays nothing unless money is collected.  This has traditionally been known as “the poor man’s key to the court house.”  This means that a person with a meritorious claim can be represented by the best lawyer even if they are not able to afford his high hourly rates.

At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, all injury, workers’ compensation, and Social Security Disability claims are handled on a complete contingency basis.  Our clients pay nothing unless and until we get them a recovery.

Not all contingent fees are created equal

Although the contingent fees charged by lawyers are similar, there are significant differences.  In addition to the fee, a law firm is entitled to be reimbursed for any expenses that they have advanced.  This can include such things as medical records, expert witness fees, deposition expenses and investigator fees.  While the reimbursement of these expenses is to be expected and legitimate, it also has the potential for abuse.  For example, some of the larger personal injury “mills” are known to charge for a private investigator in nearly every case.  This may even be an investigator who is on the law firm’s payroll!  The fact is that many cases do not require an investigator.  Although police reports are certainly not 100% accurate, much of the time they are sufficient.  We always try to keep our clients’ costs down when possible, and only hire an investigator when it will actually benefit the case.  We often do some of the investigative duties ourselves.  Not only does this reduce costs, it gives the lawyer a better feel for the evidence than reading an investigator’s report.

With contingent fees, it doesn’t cost any more to hire the best lawyer than it does to hire an inexperienced lawyer.

Fees charged by personal injury attorneys tend to be very similar.  Typically they are 20% in a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case, 25% in a Social Security Disability case and 33 1/3% in a motor vehicle collision case.  Even though the fees charged by attorneys are similar, it’s important to note that you can hire a firm of experienced personal injury attorneys to represent you for the same price that might be charged by a recent law school graduate or general practitioner who only occasionally sees a personal injury case.  At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, our clients can be confident that personal injury work is all we do; we don’t “dabble” in it.  You gain the benefit of a team of experienced injury lawyers.  Our goal is to put the most money we can into our clients’ pockets.  This requires experience and care. If you’re looking to hire a lawyer on a contingent basis, give us a call to set up your free consultation today.

Am I Entitled to a Lump Sum Workers’ Compensation Settlement?

Lump sum settlementsIs there a right to lump sum workers’ compensation settlements?

In general, there is no right to a lump sum settlement for a workers’ compensation injury in Pennsylvania. Settlements are typically the product of negotiation or, in some cases, mediation with a workers’ compensation judge. This is unlike in some other states where there is a right to a lump sum settlement based upon one’s degree of permanent bodily impairment.

What is specific loss? Am I entitled to a lump sum for an amputation?

The one exception to the general rule in Pennsylvania is the area of the law known as “specific loss.” Specific loss simply refers to a “schedule” of benefits for the loss of a body part. This could be a finger or a part of a finger, an eye, or an entire limb (such as an arm or a leg). This “schedule” of benefits is expressed in the number of weeks of compensation to which the victim is entitled. Thus the higher the worker’s compensation rate, the greater his or her compensation will be for a specific loss.

It is important to understand that an actual amputation is not necessary in order to be entitled to a lump sum. If there is medical evidence that the worker has lost the use of the body part “for all practical intents and purposes” it may be possible to obtain specific loss benefits.

Workers’ Compensation for Scarring and Disfigurement

Specific loss also includes disfigurement of the head, face or neck. To be compensable, the disfigurement must be permanent and unsightly. This is one type of injury that is not covered in the schedules. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, a workers’ compensation judge will view the disfigurement and award a number of weeks of compensation which the judge feels is appropriate.

It is also important for a worker who has suffered a specific loss to understand that it is referred to as a “sword and shield” under the law. While specific loss benefits might at first seem attractive, often an injured worker’s disability is far more extensive than the schedule of benefits allows. In some cases, the insurance company will use the specific loss as a “shield” and argue that their obligation is limited to the specific loss rather than ongoing weekly benefits.

Do I need a lawyer?

Depending on the facts of your case, it may be possible to establish that disability arises from a condition other than the specific loss, thus maximizing benefits. Proper evaluation of a claim involving a specific loss is essential in order to make certain that the client receives the benefits to which they are entitled by law. We are always happy to discuss your claim at no cost or obligation. We will tell you if we think a lump sum settlement is possible. The major factors that affect the value of a settlement are the age of the claimant, the seriousness of the injury, the extent or permanence of the disability, and the compensation rate. Call our office for a free consultation to discuss whether or not you should get a lump sum.

Can I sue my Employer if I was Hurt at Work?

dangerous workWhy can’t I sue my employer if I was hurt at work?

Can you sue your employer if you were hurt at work? The short answer to this question is “probably not.”  In Pennsylvania, and most, if not all, states, when you are hurt at work, you are limited to the recovery of workers’ compensation benefits: lost wages, medical bills and, in some cases, a lump sum award.  This is the result of what is known as the great “bargain” that was crafted during the Industrial Revolution.  Before workers’ compensation laws, an inured worker was limited to filing suing the employer for his or her injuries.  The problem was that the inured worker had to prove negligence.  It was, and remains, very difficult and time-consuming to prove negligence on the part of the employer.  Injuries were often caused by the negligence of a fellow worker or even the injured worker himself.  Unfortunately, filing suit against a co-worker would not be fruitful as the judgement against them would probably not be recoverable.

Workers’ Compensation laws were the original form of no-fault legislation.  The historic bargain is that employees give up the right to sue their employer (and co-workers) in exchange for quick payment of lost wages and medical bills without regard to the cause of the injury, without the need for lengthy litigation.  There are very narrow exceptions to this.

Exceptions to Immunity

In Pennsylvania, an employee who causes intentional injury to himself or herself is not entitled to compensation.  A co-worker may be sued for intentionally causing an injury.  If an employer illegally fails to have workers’ compensation insurance in place, the worker has the option to sue in tort or to proceed against the Uninsured Employers’ Guaranty Fund.

In very rare cases an employer who intentionally causes injury to an employee may be sued.  The classic example of this is where a battery manufacturer intentionally concealed toxic levels of lead in the blood of its employees.

Lawsuits against other “third” parties

Another very important thing to keep in mind is that if the injury is caused by a third party, they are not covered by the limited immunity provided by workers’ compensation laws.  The most common examples of this would be a professional driver who is injured by the negligence of another motorist, or a worker who is injured by a defective machine.  In instances such as this, it may be possible to bring what is known as a “third party tort action” against the other driver or manufacturer of the machine. Our Erie, PA workers’ compensation lawyers always evaluate the possibility of third-party claims when we represent injured workers.

All of these are complex situations and require expert analysis by a local, experienced personal injury attorney.  If your injured at work, we will be happy to discuss your claim with you with no cost or obligation. We have law offices in Erie, PA, and Smethport, PA.

Can I get Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel from TypingCan I get Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or for other Repetitive Motion Injuries?

People frequently ask us, “Can I get workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome?” The most common work injury scenario goes something like, “I was lifting a box and my back went out.” That type of injury is a readily identifiable distinct event. For carpal tunnel syndrome, the story changes. Maybe you’ve just been typing all day, every day, for thirty years.

However, many injuries can’t be traced to a specific event. It is well known medically that performing the same, repetitive tasks for weeks, months, or even years can cause excessive wear on body parts. The most common example is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is a painful condition involving the wrist. We have seen this work injury in a wide variety of settings including such diverse occupations as sorting clothes in a laundry or operating a coil winding machine in a shop.

One of the most confusing questions involving repetitive motion injuries is what date your injury occurred.

While workman’s comp insurance companies will often assign an injury date based upon when the injury was reported, this is not proper in the case of a repetitive motion injury. Under Pennsylvania law, each day of work is considered a new injury; the date of injury is the last day of work. This date is sort of a legal fiction, seeing as repetitive motion injuries occur over time—not on a specific date.

This can be extremely important in the typical case where the employee thinks “I can just work through this” and never reports and injury. Then, one day, the pain becomes so severe that they are unable to work and perhaps surgery is even necessary. Since by law in Pennsylvania a worker has 120 days from the date of injury to make a report, establishing the date of injury as the last day of work can be very important in assuring that the reporting requirement has been adhered to.

What if I notice the pain at home instead of at work?

One interesting aspect of repetitive motion injuries or overuse injuries is that the actual disabling event need not occur at work to be compensable under workers’ compensation. While carpal tunnel syndrome may be the best known example of repetitive motion injuries, there are many others. We have seen a number of cases over the years where a worker who engages in heavy lifting over a long period of time suffers a herniated disc at home. Of course the workers’ compensation insurance company will deny a claim such as this on the basis that it did not occur at work. However, with the proper development of medical evidence and an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer, it may be possible to obtain workers’ compensation benefits (including benefits for lost wages) for injuries which seemingly occurred at home, but were caused by repetitive work activities.

Will I need a lawyer to get workers’ compensation for my carpal tunnel?

This short article can’t possibly cover every situation. If you’re suffering from a repetitive motion injury like carpal tunnel, and you believe it’s from your work, you need a lawyer. That is why we are always happy to discuss the circumstances of your work injury with no cost or obligation. Contact our office to talk to a lawyer about your work injury. If you’re not sure and want to learn more, read our other articles about work injuries and workers’ compensation.