Carpal tunnel injury has become increasingly common as computers have become more and more widespread in the workplace. The precise, repetitive motions involved in typing, using a mouse, and tabbing through screens in accounting or database software are exactly the sort that can cause carpal tunnel. However, many other types of repetitive motion, such as assembly line work, can also cause this condition. If you suspect that you have carpal tunnel injury caused by your job, here are a few important things you should know.
What Is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel injury (or syndrome) results from pressure on the median nerve that runs down the forearm and into the hand. The name comes from the tunnel that carries the median nerve and the tendons that move the fingers through the carpal (wrist) bones. The tendons move back and forth in order to move the fingers, and excessive repetitive motion can cause them to irritate the carpal tunnel. When that happens, the tunnel swells, compressing the nerve.
Nerve compression can cause several symptoms, including tingling, burning, pain, or numbness in the fingers and hand. As the condition worsens, the patient may find their grip weakening or lose the ability to feel heat and cold in the fingers (which creates a risk of suffering serious burns).
How Does Worker’s Compensation Work?
Almost every state has a worker’s compensation law. Employers are required (subject to certain limits) to carry worker’s compensation (WC) insurance. In return, they are protected from being sued by their employees for work-related injuries or illnesses. There are, however, some important limitations and exceptions of which you should be aware.
First, very small employers (generally less than about four employees, or below a quarterly total payroll limit) do not have to have WC coverage (although they can choose to, and some do). Certain types of employers, such as charities, are also often exempt.
Second, only employees are covered by worker’s comp; independent contractors are not. If you receive a W-2 at the end of the year, you are an employee, but if you receive a 1099, you are a contractor. (Note that some companies incorrectly classify workers as contractors when they should be employees, and that is a separate legal issue entirely.
Third, an injury or illness must be work-related to be covered by worker’s comp. You may be very confident that your carpal tunnel was caused by your job, but there are several other possible causes, including diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and even pregnancy. Non-work activities such as computer or console gaming, certain sports, and hobbies that result in repetitive hand motion can also be to blame.
How Do I File a Worker’s Comp Claim?
Your employer’s HR department or your supervisor can tell you the procedures for filing a claim. (In fact, that information is probably posted on a bulletin board somewhere in your workplace.) You will have to fill out some paperwork and be seen by a doctor (who must be approved by the WC insurance carrier).
It is quite possible that the insurance company will look for reasons to deny the claim, especially if there is a potential cause of your carpal tunnel that is not work-related. For this reason, you should begin documenting your condition as soon as possible, noting dates that symptoms appeared, and even what activities you were performing when they did.
Another important consideration with worker’s comp is the difference between an injury and an illness. Because state laws govern worker’s comp, how carpal tunnel is treated may vary from one state to another. From a legal standpoint, there are important differences between the two that can affect whether your claim will be successful.
Because of the differences in each state’s worker’s comp laws and the potential difficulties in proving that carpal tunnel is work-related, you should seek the advice of an experienced worker’s compensation attorney. They can guide you through the claim process and ensure that an insurance company that might prefer to deny your claim doesn’t take advantage of you.
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