Illinois workers suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome may be eligible for medical and disability benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical condition resulting from compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel that causes pain, numbness, burning, or tingling in the fingers and hand, sometimes extending up the arm.
Carpal tunnel syndrome has been associated with work-related repetitive or cumulative trauma, which might involve repetitive tasks, force, posture, or vibration. However, carpal tunnel syndrome has also been associated with obesity, arthritis, diabetes, and acute trauma.
Because the actual cause of any individual case is often unknown, carpal tunnel syndrome workers’ compensation claims are often contested by independent medical examinations. Illinois workers with carpal tunnel syndrome claims will most likely need to obtain a detailed and well-written causation opinion by their treating surgeon.
Medical treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome may consist of physical therapy, steroid injections, and surgical release of the tranverse carpal ligament if more conservative measures fail to provide relief.
Illinois workers suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome may be entitled to medical benefits, temporary total disability benefits, vocational rehabilitation, and one of the types of permanent disability benefits – scheduled injury benefits, wage differential benefits, or permanent total disability benefits.
If the injured worker is able to return to their previous position – that is to say, not suffer a partial or complete loss of earning capacity – they will most likely be compensated with scheduled injury benefits under section 8(e) of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.
Carpal tunnel syndromes were specifically targeted by the 2011 workers’ compensation reforms and the scheduled benefit for “loss of a hand” due to carpal tunnel syndrome was reduced in section 8(e)(9) of the Act, which provides:
190 weeks if the accidental injury occurs on or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 94th General Assembly but before February 1, 2006.
205 weeks if the accidental injury occurs on or after February 1, 2006.
190 weeks if the accidental injury occurs on or after June 28, 2011 (the effective date of Public Act 97-18) and if the accidental injury involves carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive or cumulative trauma, in which case the permanent partial disability shall not exceed 15% loss of use of the hand, except for cause shown by clear and convincing evidence and in which case the award shall not exceed 30% loss of use of the hand.
Simply stated, the maximum scheduled benefit for carpal tunnel syndrome claims after June 28, 2011 generally is 28.5 weeks multiplied by 60% of the average weekly wage. However, for good cause, the benefit may go up to 57 weeks. You can read more about calculating awards here.
Peoria County Belwood Nursing Home v. Industrial Commission, 115 Ill. 2d 524 (1987) (laundry room attendant) Google Scholar.
[The claimant’s] medical expert … expressly concluded that claimant’s injury was a result of the “repetitive continuous motion and strain impossed [sic] to the element of the carpal tunnel, while in the process of her employment (handling large laundry machines), whereby she developed typical symptoms of bilateral carpal tunnel, being worse on the left side, requiring immediate surgery, and having the right one aggravated by continued work in this same job, further necessitating equal surgery.”
We believe that the purpose behind the Workers’ Compensation Act is best served by allowing compensation in a case like the instant one where an injury has been shown to be caused by the performance of the claimant’s job and has developed gradually over a period of time, without requiring complete dysfunction.
To deny an employee benefits for a work-related injury that is not the result of a sudden mishap or completely disabling penalizes an employee who faithfully performs job duties despite bodily discomfort and damage.
We therefore hold that the date of an accidental injury in a repetitive-trauma compensation case is the date on which the injury “manifests itself.” “Manifests itself” means the date on which both the fact of the injury and the causal relationship of the injury to the claimant’s employment would have become plainly apparent to a reasonable person.
In the case at bar, there was sufficient evidence to support the Commission’s finding that claimant’s injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment with respondent. Claimant was employed as an electrician for the City since 1996. He was required to undergo a preemployment physical, which he passed. His work required him to maintain “everything related to controls, measurements, levels, emissions and computer equipment.” His work required him to operate a variety of handheld tools, including wrenches, pliers, channel locks, screwdrivers, wire strippers, drills, a matavos grinding wheel and a saw-zaw. Claimant worked eight hours a day, five days a week, with varying degrees of overtime. Claimant testified that out of an eight-hour work day, at least five of those hours were spent using vibratory tools. Although he is right-hand dominant, claimant testified that he was ambidextrous with the use of tools and that he used both hands throughout the course of his work day. Claimant testified that his place of work, the Dahlman plant, vibrated constantly. Claimant also testified that his work required reaching with his upper extremities, including reaching to grab wire.
In the instant case, the evidence shows that although claimant’s work varied, it was repetitive in nature. As the Commission noted, although the evidence shows that claimant’s work was not repetitive in the sense that he worked on an assembly line and performed the same task over and over again, claimant’s work was repetitive enough to support the finding that claimant suffered a repetitive trauma injury that arose out of and in the course of his employment with respondent. Further, the medical evidence also supported the finding that claimant’s work was repetitive in nature. In particular, Dr. Neumeister’s testimony supports the finding that claimant’s work was repetitive in nature and that his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment with respondent. It is the function of the Commission to judge the credibility of witnesses and resolve conflicting medical evidence. [citation omitted]. This court cannot find that the Commission’s finding that claimant suffered a repetitive trauma injury was against the manifest weight of the evidence because we cannot say that a contrary finding was clearly apparent from the evidence presented.
Section 6(d) of the Workers’ Compensation Act provides that an injured employee must file a workers’ compensation claim “within 3 years after the date of the accident.”[citation omitted]. When the accident is a discrete event, the date of the accident is easy to determine: it is, obviously, the date that the employee was injured. When the accident is not a discrete event, this date is harder to specify. An employee who suffers a repetitive-trauma injury still may apply for benefits under the Act, but must meet the same standard of proof as an employee who suffers a sudden injury. [citation omitted]. That means, inter alia, an employee suffering from a repetitive-trauma injury must still point to a date within the limitations period on which both the injury and its causal link to the employee’s work became plainly apparent to a reasonable person.
In short, courts considering various factors have typically set the manifestation date on either the date on which the employee requires medical treatment or the date on which the employee can no longer perform work activities. [citation omitted]. A formal diagnosis, of course, is not required. The manifestation date is not the date on which the injury and its causal link to work became plainly apparent to a reasonable physician, but the date on which it became plainly apparent to a reasonable employee. [citation omitted]. However, because repetitive-trauma injuries are progressive, the employee’s medical treatment, as well as the severity of the injury and particularly how it affects the employee’s performance, are relevant in determining objectively when a reasonable person would have plainly recognized the injury and its relation to work.
Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Industrial Commission, 176 Ill. App. 3d 607 (1988) (slaughterhouse) Google Scholar.
Luttrell v. Industrial Commission, 154 Ill. App. 3d 943 (1987) (finding that carpal tunnel syndrome is compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act, not the Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act) Google Scholar.
Luttrell v. Industrial Commission, 154 Ill. App. 3d 943 (1987) (“in the case of repetitive trauma, it is no longer necessary for an employee to establish a specific time, place, or cause of an accidental injury, nor is it necessary to establish a sudden giving way of the employee’s bodily structure”) Google Scholar.