When most people think of work-related injuries, they often imagine the sudden, unexpected events that cause them: a slip-and-fall, a vehicle accident, an equipment malfunction, etc.
In fact, though, occupational diseases and injuries caused by repetitive motions of the body, known as repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), make up a significant portion of workplace injuries in Maryland and in the U.S. as a whole.
The question of whether these conditions are covered by Maryland workers’ compensation is a complex one. Before we go further, though, it may be helpful to define the terms “occupational disease” and “repetitive stress injury.”
- An occupational disease is any chronic ailment that occurs as a result of work or occupational activity.
- A repetitive stress injury (or repetitive strain injury) is a tendon and/or nerve disorder that occurs when a person repeats the same motion over and over across a long period of time.
The History of Occupational Diseases and Maryland Workers’ Compensation Law
Early in the history of Maryland workers’ compensation law, benefits from the workers’ compensation system applied only to sudden, accidental injuries — slip-and-falls, machinery accidents, and other types of one-time incidents we often associate with workplace injuries.
The law eventually changed because of the plight of coal miners in Maryland, who were often afflicted with chronic respiratory conditions like black lung disease as well as other health complications that arose from their working conditions. Because the law regarding workers’ compensation benefits was so restrictive, lawyers for insurance companies were successfully able to argue that these ailments were a condition of the job that the coal miners had taken on knowingly — and that their occupational diseases weren’t covered under workers’ compensation as a result.
Eventually, lawmakers revised the workers’ compensation laws in Maryland and extended benefits to occupational diseases like black lung. In the years since, the law has expanded regarding what occupational illnesses are covered, but overall, Maryland still has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to occupational diseases.
What Occupational Diseases Are Covered in Maryland?
Maryland workers’ compensation law states that occupational diseases which arise “out of and in the course of” employment are covered under workers’ compensation law. In practice, this means that you will need a qualified physician to determine two things: First, that you have an occupational disease associated with your job, and second, that it developed as a result of on-the-job exposure to a known cause of the disease, not as a result of any underlying condition or other factor that existed before your exposure at work.
Some occupational diseases — like black lung, which is almost completely unique to coal miners, or mesothelioma, which arises almost exclusively from work-related asbestos exposure — are very strongly associated with certain occupations or employment conditions. This makes them easier to link to your employment for the purpose of a workers’ compensation claim. Other occupational diseases aren’t as strongly associated with specific jobs and employment conditions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t receive workers’ compensation benefits for these conditions; it just means that the link to your job activities may be more difficult to prove.
What’s important to understand, is that underlying conditions which are aggravated by employment conditions and job activities are not covered by Maryland workers’ compensation. This means that if you already had diabetes, for example, and on-the-job activity made your diabetes worse, you would not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for your diabetes under Maryland law.
Do Maryland Workers’ Compensation Benefits Cover RSIs?
Repetitive stress injuries are an interesting case when it comes to Maryland workers’ compensation law, as they combine elements of sudden accidents (in that they are a form of physical trauma that may be caused by on-the-job activities) and occupational diseases (in that they tend to develop and display symptoms slowly over time).
One of the most common and well-known RSIs is carpal tunnel syndrome, a numbness and tingling in the hand, arm, and fingers caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist. Another is tendonitis, a painful inflammation of the tendons that connect muscles to bones, which can potentially affect any tendon in your body. “Trigger finger” and “tennis elbow” are two well-known conditions that are actually forms of tendonitis.
In general, repetitive stress injuries tend to abide by the same rules as occupational diseases when it comes to workers’ compensation — that is, you will be eligible to receive benefits if you can demonstrate that your condition is associated with your job and that you developed it as a result of on-the-job activity. If your condition began with an underlying issue you already had, though, and your job simply made it worse, then you won’t be eligible to receive Maryland workers’ compensation benefits for the condition.
When you think about the implications of this, you can see how workers’ compensation claims arising from repetitive stress injuries can be complicated. Most repetitive stress injuries involve body parts like your hands, shoulders, and back, which you use almost constantly in your everyday life. As a result, it can be difficult to prove that a condition like tendonitis originated from your work and not from one of the many other activities you perform with the affected body part every day.
Other Challenges Related to Occupational Disease and RSI Claims
In addition, the two-year statute of limitations for workers’ compensation claims tends to work against sufferers of both occupational illnesses and job-related RSIs. The window to file a claim begins as soon as you first notice the signs of a health problem associated with your work, at which point you need to notify your employer of the injury or disease and file a workers’ compensation claim. However, many people with occupational diseases and RSIs tend to try and work through the condition for a long time as the pain and discomfort gradually increase. By the time they finally decide to take action, the two-year window has expired, and the chance to file a workers’ compensation claim is gone.
This isn’t to say that it’s not possible to receive workers’ compensation benefits in Maryland for a slow-growing condition such as a repetitive stress injury — in fact, workers can and do receive benefits for these injuries, especially for conditions like carpal tunnel and elbow tendinitis which have an established link to certain jobs and physical job duties. However, the restrictive nature of Maryland law and the two-year statute of limitations mean that you need to contact the Pinder Plotkin legal team right away if you notice signs of an occupational disease or work-related RSI.
If you suspect you may have an occupational illness or RSI, you should ask a doctor about your symptoms as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to make detailed written notes about your symptoms, including when you remember them first originating and your experience whenever they occur. This documentation can prove helpful later on if you decide to pursue a workers’ compensation claim with the help of an attorney.
Contact the Pinder Plotkin Legal Team If You’ve Been Hurt at Work
If you or a loved one has been injured while on the job, please get in touch with the legal team at Pinder Plotkin. Our office has tried hundreds of cases before the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and other firms frequently refer cases to us because they trust our knowledge and experience in fighting for our clients’ rights.
In addition, our fee policy ensures that you only pay fees and expenses if and when we achieve a recovery on your behalf. Please call us today at (410) 661-9440 or fill out our online contact form to receive a free consultation regarding your case.
The information provided in this website/blog is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI). (2016, January 27). National Health Service. Retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Repetitive-strain-injury/Pages/Introduction.aspx