Are Repetitive Trauma Injuries Compensable?

Having been a Charleston workers compensation attorney for the past 18 years, one of the questions that I’m asked often is whether or not someone’s injuries caused by repetitive trauma or repetitive motion are covered under the South Carolina Workers Compensation Act. The short answer is that they can be, however, this is a very contested area of the law where employers often times deny a case no matter what the facts are. To begin the analysis on how to look at these types of cases one must look to SC Code Ann §42-1-172 which gives the definitions for “repetitive trauma injury”. In this section the law defines repetitive trauma injury as a “injury which is gradual and onset and caused by the cumulative effects of repetitive traumatic events. The law goes on to state that an injury is not considered a compensable repetitive trauma injury unless commissioner makes a specific finding of fact by preponderance of the evidence of a causable connection that is established by medical evidence. So the next logical question is what evidence would you need to prove this type of case?

The medical evidence that you would need to prove this, in my opinion, is expert medical opinion and/or testimony that’s stated to a “reasonable degree of medical certainty” and needs to be supported by documents, records and other material that you present on behalf of a qualified and licensed medical doctor in the State of South Carolina. While the statute only requires that you produce medical evidence to support your claims, I think it is very prudent with the current state of the law and with the current attitudes of the seven workers compensation commissioners that decide these types of cases to go and get an ergonomics expert to help show that your injuries were in fact caused by your conditions at work. This is a very complex area of the law and I would highly recommend that you get an experienced South Carolina workers compensation lawyer to assist you in preparing your case before the South Carolina Workers Compensation Commission.  Your lawyer should be able to find the ergonomics and medical experts needed in your case to help prove that your injuries were caused by repetitive trauma at work. In the event that you decide to do it alone, which I highly discourage you to do, you may begin looking for an ergonomics expert through the International Ergonomics Association. Their website is www.iea.cc/. This association lists to our human factors experts from around the world and could be a good starting point to find an expert that could help give expert opinion that could help prove your case.

Very importantly you’re going to want to prove under the statute that your repetitive trauma injury “arises out of employment”. This again will require a direct cause relationship between your medical condition or injury and the type of work that you are performing at the time of the injury. There is some good news here though in that if you reach your burden of proof by proving your case through the medical standards that are required by the law and in my opinion what you should do to buttress that opinion and have an ergonomics expert opine that your injuries were caused by the work condition. It is important to note that the defendants, your employer and their insurance company in order to rebut this evidence would need to have medical evidence that meets the same standard to say that your injuries were not caused by a work accident in order to properly defend your case.

While it has always been difficult in this area of the Workers Compensation Act to prove this type of case, in my opinion it got a lot harder to try and prove these cases after the amendments to the Act in 2007. Specifically in 2007 new rules and statutes were created in terms of the burden of proof and what types of elements you would need to prove to show that someone had suffered a repetitive trauma injury at work. I have attended several conferences in which I’ve heard several of the South Carolina Workers Compensation Commissioners give the opinion that when the legislature passed this law and gave these strict definitions that they did so for a reason and at least in those commissioner’s opinions had raised the standards in which you need to meet in order to prove these types of cases. With that in mind, the types of cases that we have seen successful since they changed the law in 2007 include any type of job where you are truly doing something that is repetitive on a day in and day out basis. For example, if you’re working on an assembly line using a grinder and taking tool parts or other materials and doing the same repetitive motion with your hands over and over in order to prepare that product to be shipped out for sale.

Examples of claims that we’ve seen where there have been attempts to bring repetitive trauma cases that run successful is somebody working in an ambulance and claiming that they have to put materials and supplies in and out of it on a routine basis. However, the majority of their job includes other job duties that make it so the commission has found where the part of the job that they were doing in loading those materials was not enough of the day or of their job duties in order to be truly repetitive in nature and therefore compensable under the Act. It is very important to note that each one of these cases stands on its own facts and its own circumstances therefore you do not want to make a decision that you do or do not have a repetitive trauma case based upon your opinions or impressions about the strength or weakness of your case. You should consult an experienced South Carolina workers compensation lawyer to not only assess your strengths and weaknesses of your case but also to help you build the evidence necessary to prove that successful repetitive trauma injury case in South Carolina.

If you have questions about whether or not you have a compensable injury or accident at work, call one of our experienced South Carolina workers compensation lawyers now. Initial consultation is free and we’re available to talk to you 24/7.

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