Proving that repetitive stress injuries are work-related and result from unique occupational risks can be challenging for injured Wisconsin workers.
A repetitive stress injury occurs when a joint becomes strained from performing a repeated physical motion. Many workers in Milwaukee may be at risk for repetitive stress injuries, such as low back injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome. In 2013, musculoskeletal injuries, including repetitive stress injuries, represented 33 percent of all work-related injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Under the Wisconsin workers' compensation system, acute and repetitive stress injuries may both qualify for workers' compensation benefits. However, securing benefits may be more challenging for victims of repetitive stress injuries, given the unusual nature of these injuries.
People seeking workers' compensation must generally prove that their injuries arose in the course of their jobs. This can be difficult when an injury develops gradually. Repetitive stress injury victims also must show that their jobs put them at an unusually high risk of suffering the injury. This is because repetitive stress injuries fall under the broader category of occupational diseases.
If an injury is a known occupational risk, proving that the injury meets these criteria may be straightforward. For instance, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs frequently among assembly line workers, cashiers and other employees who perform repetitive hand and wrist movements. These workers may not need extensive documentation to show that carpel tunnel syndrome is a work-related condition. However, documenting claims involving less common injuries or jobs with unusual duties may be more complex.
Fortunately, Wisconsin workers do not have to prove that a repetitive stress injury occurred exclusively due to workplace conditions. An injury may be compensable even if prior jobs and personal pastimes also contributed to it. However, the employee's job must be established as a significant factor in causing or worsening the injury.
In most Wisconsin workers' compensation claims, employees must notify employers of their injuries within two years. Workers who fail to do so lose the right to pursue workers' compensation benefits. However, state law recognizes that workers may not become aware of stress injuries and other occupational diseases for months or years. Therefore, there are no reporting deadlines or statutes of limitations for workers who suffer occupational diseases.
Despite this, employees may benefit from putting together claims as soon as they discover that their injuries are work-related. Documenting working conditions, the injury and the associated debilitating effects may be easier immediately after the injury becomes apparent.
Making a claim
Given the potential complications of claims involving repetitive stress injuries, injured workers may benefit from partnering with an attorney. A workers' compensation attorney may be able to offer advice on the relevant state laws and legal precedents. An attorney also may help an injured worker prepare a claim that clearly demonstrates the work-related nature of the injury.