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Repetitive Trauma Claims - The Need to Give Notice

When a majority of people think about work place injuries, they typically think of an “acute” injury. An acute injury occurs suddenly during activity, such as a sprained ankle or fractured arm.

However, the State of Illinois also recognizes “repetitive trauma” type injuries under the Workers’ Compensation Act. A repetitive trauma injury is one that was caused by the performance of the employee’s job but has developed gradually over a period of time. Like in acute injury cases, the employee must notify his or her employer of the repetitive trauma injury as soon as possible. As is true in an acute injury claim, the employee, under most circumstances, has forty-five days from the date of injury to report it to his or her employer.

Of course, the date of injury is harder to determine in these types of claims but the courts still require it. Because of this, it is important to notify one’s employer as soon as he or she notices symptoms of a possible repetitive type injury. This is important because the courts normally look at two possible methods of determining the date of injury and if a person waits too long to notify his or her employer, he or she risks having the claim denied.

The first method is essentially when a “reasonable person” would realize his or her symptoms were caused by his or her work. For example, this would be the day when an employee realized the numbness and tingling he or she felt in his or her hands was being caused by the repetitive work he or she was doing for the past few years on an assembly line.

The second method is the date when the repetitive type injury caused the employee to no longer be able to do his or her job. In this scenario, the courts have assumed the employee already recognized that he or she has a work related condition but has continued working. Here, a person may have been working for some time knowing that his or her pain was caused by the work but kept working until it became so severe that he or she was no longer able to do the work. As an example, a person may have back pain for months and know it is from the work but does nothing about it until the day it became so bad that he or she was no longer able to do any work.

The question of whether an employee gave proper notice to his or her employer of a repetitive trauma injury is an issue that is constantly challenged and is the center of much ongoing litigation. Typically, the actual notice is not clear-cut and can become the central issue of a claim. In most instances, as soon as an employee notices what he or she feels may be a work-related injury occurring gradually, it is best to notify a supervisor immediately and seek medical attention.

The law in the area of repetitive trauma injuries is always changing and many times requires the skills of a qualified workers’ compensation attorney to make sure the employee receives all the rights he or she is entitled to under the law.

If you have any questions on the subject, please contact us.