Workers Compensation - Washington

Tara Reck, Managing L&I Attorney at Reck Law PLLC - Workers' Compensation Attorneys

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Trucking Work Injury and Occupational Disease Cases in the L&I Claim Settings

As a workers’ compensation attorney in Washington State, I often see L&I claims involving truck driver work injury. Also, I can attest that trucking work accidents can be severe and costly. In my experience, common occurrences of trucking work injury include slips, trips and falls. These workplace accidents happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes they involve getting in and out of the rig. Other times, they can involve a collision. In some cases, they happen while performing maintenance on the rig or some other activity. For example, securing load or putting up chains. Additionally, many trucking-related work injuries happen during loading, unloading, and moving loads.

 

Work injury in the trucking industry

An industrial injury is when a sudden and tangible incident results in physical harm requiring medical attention. From personal observations, industrial injuries in trucking are quite severe. Maybe it’s because most trucking work injury cases involve large rigs, heavy equipment, as well as heavy loads. More explicitly, I’ve seen examples of truckers’ workplace injury such as falling off loading ramps and docks. Other examples include getting hit by roll-up or swinging doors and slipping and falling getting in and out of the cab. Then, there are also work accident instances when truck drivers are lifting heavy items, or getting hit by freight. Finally, there’s also motor vehicle accidents involving trucks as well as forklift work accidents.

 

Obviously, trucking injuries can impact all parts of the body. After all, it’s an industry that is highly prone to work accidents and devastating injuries. In many incidents we see shoulder injuries, knee injuries, and also neck and low back work-related injuries. In more harsh cases, we also encounter traumatic brain injury (TBI) in trucking as well.

 

Occupational disease and industrial illness in trucking

Of course, L&I claim involving a truck driver might arise from an occupational disease. Specifically, occupational diseases (also known as industrial illness) are conditions caused by job activities. Moreover, these conditions may develop over time. In my experience, truckers are more likely to develop occupational illness on the job if they’ve been doing it a long time. They are also likely to develop an industrial disease when their job involves frequent, repetitive, and heavy lifting activity. Over the years, I’ve seen many trucking-related work diseases.

 

There are distinctive work activities that lead to an occupational disease for truckers. These conditions include repetitive jarring from poor shocks, poor seat design, or seat malfunction. On top, they include repetitive hooking or unhooking large and heavy hoses, repetitive climbing in and out of the cab for short haul routes and repetitive loading of large, heavy, awkward, and bulky freight. As a result, I’ve seen work injury claimants develop sprains and strains, shoulder tears, knee tears, herniated disks, and aggravate degenerative conditions like arthritis.

 

The impact of work injury on truckers

There’s no doubt that truck driving involves labor intensive activities. Many accidents happen with large trucks and heavy equipment. Therefore, trucking work injuries and occupational diseases can seriously impact the ability to work. In trucking, it’s particularly difficult to modify a job for light duty work activity. Consequently, in addition to the medical and other costs of the L&I claim, a trucking workers’ compensation claim is extremely costly for the work injury claimant. Too often, it can end a good career for injured truck drivers.

 

The L&I trucker safety initiative

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) created the Safety and Health Assessment and Research (SHARP) program. In essence, they designed the program to help improve workplace safety. SHARP maintains that workplace accidents result from preventable exposures. The L&I SHARP program, in partnership with funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is studying occupational safety and health in the trucking industry. This project is called Trucking Injury Reduction Emphasis or TIRES. In fact, the TIRES program already covers a decade of research to prevent slips, trips, falls, strains and sprains, and getting struck by objects. Furthermore, L&I develops materials under the TIRES program to prevent common accidents.

 

L&I published certain statistics that relate to work injuries for truckers. In short, truck drivers and truckers are frequently prone to work injury and accidents on the job. Hence, the TIRES program is working hard to create a trucking-industry-specific safety program. For me, in trucking workers’ compensation claims, I pay special attention to the high price that work injury claimants incur. Therefore, all safety improvements that reduce trucking injury and disease occurrences is a worthwhile and blessed investment.

 

 

L&I Claim for Knee Work Injury

Knee workplace injuries are very common in the workers’ compensation claim ecosystem. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) studied the frequency of knee claims from 1999 through 2007. In conclusion, they found that 7% of all claims involve knee conditions. Practically speaking, that translates into roughly 25,000 knee work injury incidents in under 10 years. According to L&I, knee injuries happen mostly to workers in carpentry, truck driving, nursing aid, and housekeeping.

 

Knee workplace injury

The knee is a complex joint. It’s where the lower leg and upper leg join. In other words, the knee joint is the meeting point for the shin and thigh. This important joint must bear weight and connect two large leg bones. That means it must be strong, flexible, and stable. Consequently, there are many important parts of the knee joint that make it function.

 

The patella (also known as kneecap) is at the center of the knee. There is a medial (or inner) meniscus and a lateral (or outer) meniscus. The meniscus is a tough half-moon looking piece of cartilage that cushions and absorbs shock in the joint. There are also four ligaments in the knee connecting the bones. These ligaments are the medial collateral ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, and fibular collateral ligament. According to L&I, of the four types, the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments are the most susceptible to workplace injury.

 

Then, there’s bursae, which are fluid sacs that surround the knee joint. They help with communication and lubrication in the joint. The bursae act like a cushion and reduce friction inside the joint. The knee also has tendons and muscles. They connect muscles and bones and provide strength and stability to the joint. Unfortunately, all these parts of the knee are susceptible to work injury as well as wear and tear.

 

L&I data about knee injury at work

In work setting, there are many ways knee injuries occur. There are also many work activities that place extra stress on the joint and increase wear and tear over time. Clearly, knee injuries and common wear and tear can also occur outside work.

 

In my experience, knee conditions in an L&I claim vary from fairly minor to extremely severe. Doctors often initially diagnose knee conditions as sprains or strains, which we discussed previously. However, according to the data collected by L&I, work-related knee conditions also include meniscus damage and ligament damage. They also include a condition called chondromalacia patellae, tendonitis, bursitis, and enthesopathy. Of course, a serious traumatic work injury can also cause bruising, fractures and breaks in the joint.

 

L&I guides and publications for knee work injury and conditions

L&I studied workplace injury knee conditions extensively. Therefore, there’s plenty of guidelines for treating knee conditions. In 2017, L&I published a 50-page document outlining conservative care options for work-related knee conditions. The document describes and breaks down treatment options. Also, it offers treatment timelines and contains specific diagnosis, resources, and recommendations.

 

Generally, L&I’s treatment protocols prefer to try all conservative options. If they fail, then doctors recommend more invasive treatment. Interestingly, L&I published surgical guidelines for work-related knee injury in 2016. This 28-page document outlines the criteria that L&I uses to authorize treatment. Moreover, it covers a variety of surgical procedures appropriate for specific situations.

 

Notes and summary

In summary, the knee is a complex joint. Knee damage as a result of work activity is fairly common. Furthermore, there are many parts of the knee that can suffer an injury. Knee injuries can be minor, or they can be severe. In fact, there are instances where minor knee damage becomes more severe over time.

 

L&I studied knee conditions and has many resources for work injury claimants. The same resources are also used by your workers’ compensation attorney, as well as the attending physician on your L&I claim. Specifically, medical providers can use these valuable resources to help ensure knee claims progress appropriately.

Shoulder Work Injury in a Workers’ Compensation Claim

Work injury and workplace disease involving shoulders are fairly common. In fact, there are many ways shoulder work injuries can occur. There are also many industrial disease processes that affect shoulders. For instance, when work requires repetitive and heavy use of the arms and shoulders. Like many conditions in L&I claim settings, the cause (or causes) of the shoulder problems frequently becomes an issue.

 

Shoulder sprain and shoulder strain in an L&I workers’ compensation claim

Doctors sometime diagnose a workplace injury as sprain or strain. In essence, these usually refer to soft tissue injuries. Here, soft tissues are things like muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These kinds of injuries are extremely common in the workman’s compensation claim ecosystem. Many work activities like reaching over head, lifting, pushing, and pulling cause shoulder sprains and strains. In my experience, medical providers don’t always define sprains and strains the same way.

 

Some providers use the two terms interchangeably. In general, sprains mean that there’s a damage to tissues connecting bones. In contrast, strains reflect damage to muscles or tissues attaching a muscle to a bone. Sprains and strains can be stretching, tearing, or fraying of the soft tissue. Symptoms include pain, bruising, and swelling. Sprains and strains usually resolve within weeks or a few months. Also, treatment is conservative. For example, over the counter pain relievers, ice, heat, and physical or massage therapy. A cortisone or steroid injection may also be an option for reducing pain and swelling.

 

Shoulder impingement as a condition in an L&I claim

Shoulder impingement happens following pinching of soft tissues in the shoulder. Usually, the pinching happens during arm movement. The result is pain, swelling, and sometimes weakness. In a workers’ compensation claim, overhead work activities may cause shoulder impingement. Like sprains and strains, doctors often treat shoulder impingement conservatively. Many times, treatment can include physical therapy, home exercise, or injections.

 

Shoulder tear due to work activity

There are different kinds of shoulder tears that can occur. The most common kinds of tears I see in the workers comp setting are rotator cuff tears and SLAP tears. Rotator cuff tears happen when a rotator cuff tendon rips, either partially or in full. Partial tears are more common. They can sometimes occur without experiencing any symptoms. However, when symptoms are present, they might include pain, stiffness, weakness, and difficulty moving the arm. Personally, in my experience, rotator cuff tears are very common in construction work injury and among healthcare workers. Frequently, repetitive overhead work activities are the culprit. For care, doctors might recommend a variety of treatment options depending on the severity of the tear. Treatment may be conservative like physical therapy or injections. Other times, surgery may be considered if the tear is severe.

 

SLAP is the abbreviation for “Superior Labrum Anterior Posterior”. SLAP tears involve the labrum. The labrum surrounds the shoulder socket. A SLAP tear is when the tear is in the upper part of the labrum. Here, the tear extends to the back and to the front. Symptoms may include deep pain, popping, clicking, and difficulty sleeping. SLAP tears can happen because of a sudden injury or they can develop over time. Work injury occurrences that may cause a SLAP tear include heavy lifting, a blow to the shoulder, or falling on an outstretched arm. On top, repetitive overhead work activities can cause a SLAP tear over a period of time. Medical providers usually treat SLAP tears conservatively – initially with things like physical therapy and pain management. If conservative treatment fails, then surgery may be necessary.

 

Frozen shoulder in the workplace

Some refer to the condition frozen shoulder as “adhesive capsulitis”. People that suffer from this condition characterize it as stiffness or inability to move the shoulder joint. This happens form thickening of the shoulder capsule. In some cases, it comes from developing tissue adhesion or scar tissue. Frozen shoulder usually starts with mild symptoms that progress in stages. Initially, symptoms include general aching and sharp pain with movement. Over time, the range of motion decreases.

 

With the decrease, patients usually report pain and difficulty doing basic daily-living activities. However, if you receive appropriate treatment, the symptoms dissipate, and shoulder activity returns to normal. This can happen in a matter of months. Unfortunately, the symptoms of frozen shoulder can also linger for years. Normally, I see frozen shoulder in workers compensation claim instances following an acute workplace injury.

 

Shoulder arthritis and joint instability in workers’ comp claims

Unlike soft tissue injuries, arthritis involves significant wear-down of supportive tissue and cartilage in the shoulder. When there’s significant loss of cartilage, the bones in the shoulder joint may become unstable. Specifically, instability refers to looseness in the shoulder joint, which is a ball and socket joint. Simply put, the ball begins to slip in the socket. Sadly, sometimes it can dislocate entirely.

 

It’s important to know that a sudden work injury damaging the shoulder tissues and ligaments can cause traumatic instability. Yet, it’s also common for instability to develop due to wear and tear over time. If the slippage becomes too severe, treatment may include partial or total joint replacement surgery.

 

Shoulder injury and causation in a workers’ compensation claim

Causation tends to be an issue when more significant shoulder conditions develop. After all, shoulders are an important joint in the human body. They tend to wear down over the years due to various daily activities. Therefore, when a shoulder injury or condition isn’t purely traumatic in nature, it can be challenging to determine whether work activity is a contributing factor.

 

Generally, if your work requires repetitive shoulder joint activity, especially overhead, there is higher likelihood of a causal connection between work activity and the shoulder condition. Similarly, if a work injury claimant has no shoulder symptoms prior to a work injury but becomes symptomatic after the workplace accident, under the law, there’s likely a causal connection.

 

Summary and final comments

In summary, the topic of shoulder injury is complex. We use our shoulders very frequently. There are many parts of the shoulder that can suffer a damage due to work injury or workplace activities. Moreover, there are a variety of shoulder medical conditions. Furthermore, one condition may cause or progress into another, and treatment usually begins conservatively.

 

For me, it’s important to monitor if conservative treatment fails. It’s also critical to track if more severe conditions develop. When that happens, you should ask your doctor or workers’ compensation attorney for assistance. Why? Because you want to ensure that causation does not become a barrier to coverage under your L&I claim in Washington State.

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