With a few exceptions, workers’ compensation insurance typically covers only those injuries which are caused by an accident while on-the-job. With the exception of injuries to the back or occupational disease injuries (both discussed below), there must be some type of deviation from the normal work routine in order for an injury to be covered by workers’ compensation. If a factory worker experiences a sudden injury while engaged in his or her normal routine of pulling items from a conveyor belt, then this would unfortunately not be covered by workers’ compensation. If, however, the factory happened to be trying to running the conveyor belt at an increased rate of speed on the particular day of the injury — and if a causal relation existed between this increased speed and the worker’s injury — then the injury could be covered by workers’ compensation. Similarly, if a health care worker was the sole person lifting a patient who would ordinarily require a two-person lift, this could also make workers’ compensation benefits available in the event of an injury It often takes an experienced lawyer listening carefully and getting all the facts on the ground to explore all avenues to determine if there was an accidental injury that would trigger workers’ compensation.
As mentioned above, there is an exception to the “accident” rule for workers who suffer an injury to their back. In this circumstance, the law requires that the worker must suffer a “specific traumatic incident.” What this means is that a worker who suffers a disc herniation or a muscle strain while performing ordinary labor of lifting and/or carrying items may have a viable claim for workers’ compensation benefits. We often hear about workers who experience a “popping” sensation, or have immediate onset of back pain while lifting an item in the regular course of their employment. These are examples of what the law considers a “specific traumatic incident.” In contrast, a worker whose back problems arise from a degenerative condition such as spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease may not be able to avail themselves of workers’ compensation benefits unless there is a specific traumatic event that aggravates those pre-existing underlying conditions.
Workers’ compensation benefits may also be available to those workers who suffer repetitive motion injuries if the repetitive motion is a hallmark of the workers’ employment. Likewise, a worker may also recover workers’ compensation benefits for diseases, injuries or conditions which result from some exposure in the workplace that is above and beyond the types of exposure a regular person might experience. This can range from conditions such as lead poisoning to frostbite, and can also include disease claims such as mesothelioma or asbestosis.
Workers’ compensation may also be available to cover injuries to workers caused by the negligence of others. This includes injuries caused by a workers’ employer, co-employees, and even other individuals who do not have any employment relationship with the injured worker. This latter type of injury can involve negligence from others on a shared job-site, or it can even involve injuries occurring as a result of a motor vehicle collision while an employee is on-the-job. In these circumstances, an injured worker may have the opportunity to pursue a workers’ compensation claim, as well as an independent cause of action for further recovery against the liable person with whom the injured worker does not share an employment relationship.