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The Top 10 Work Injuries – and Your Legal Rights

Offered by Pasternack, Tilker, Ziegler, Walsh, Stanton & Romano LLP

Workers get hurt on the job every day. Some workplaces may be more dangerous than others, but no workplace is completely safe. That’s why the vast majority of employers in the United States are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.

Workers’ comp pays for reasonable and necessary medical treatment for your injury, as well as partial replacement of lost wages if you need to miss work due to the injury. How that plays out depends on the nature and extent of the injury itself. Here are the top 10 work injuries in the United States and how they can interact with the workers’ compensation system.


  1. Back Injuries

Among workers nationwide, the single most injured part of the body is the back. Most back injuries are traumatic injuries to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints that make up the back and spine, including sprains and strains from lifting and bending. More significant back injuries include herniated discs, fractures (broken bones) in the spine, and even damage to the spinal cord.

Back injuries are often associated with heavy physical activity, but that’s not necessarily the case. Many workers who spend most of their days sitting down – a category that includes office workers, truckers, and heavy equipment operators alike – develop low back pain as well.

Depending on the type and severity of the injury, a workers’ compensation claim may include medical procedures such as surgery, physical therapy, and in-home care, as well as ongoing costs for pain medication. Back injuries can also have a significant impact on a worker’s mobility, which can lead to temporary or permanent disability.


  1. Hand Injuries

The hands are directly exposed to hazards in many work situations, so it’s no surprise that they are frequently injured. Most injuries to the hands in the workplace are cuts, lacerations, puncture wounds, and other open wounds. Depending on the depth of the cut, these types of injuries may require simple bandaging or surgery. Burns, fractures (broken bones), strains, contusions, and other traumatic injuries to the hands are also common.

Since most jobs require use of the hands, any significant hand injury can render a worker unable to work for some time. Permanent damage to the hands can permanently impair a worker’s ability to do their job, potentially requiring permanent disability or vocational rehabilitation benefits. In many states, permanent hand injuries can qualify a worker for schedule loss of use (SLU) benefits, even if the injury doesn’t cause them to miss work.


  1. Head and Brain Injuries

Head injuries are among the most common work injuries, and they are potentially the most serious. Work-related concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can require extensive ongoing medical care and permanently affect the injured worker’s ability to do their job. Damage to the eyes and ears can likewise permanently impair the senses. Other head injuries include cuts and lacerations, contusions, abrasions, and skull fractures.

Head injuries can be serious, and they need immediate medical attention. A workers’ compensation claim for a head injury should include the cost of that medical care, plus follow-up visits, medications, therapy, and other costs. If a worker with a brain injury requires long-term care, such as a visiting nurse, workers’ compensation should pay for the full cost of that care. Lost wages and permanent disability benefits may also be needed if the worker is unable to return to work.


  1. Knee Injuries

Most knee injuries in the workplace are sprains, strains, tears, and other damage to the structures that make up the joint. Conditions such as tendonitis, bursitis, meniscus tears and ACL tears can have a significant long-term impact on the injured worker, and they may require surgery to repair the damage. Fractures and dislocations of the knee or kneecap are also common.

The knee is one of the body’s strongest and most important joints, bearing a great deal of weight and absorbing shock on a daily basis. Damage to the knee can severely limit the worker’s mobility and ability to do their job. Knee injuries can also be quite painful, and pain medication is often needed while the injury heals. Serious injuries may require surgery or even a knee replacement. Workers’ compensation should cover all these medical expenses, plus disability benefits if the injury is permanent or interferes with the worker’s ability to do their job.


  1. Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder has the largest range of motion of any joint in the body, and that range of motion depends on a complex array of interconnected structures and systems. As such, it is easily injured, and recovering from a shoulder injury can be a complicated process. Common shoulder injuries in the workplace include rotator cuff tears, bursitis, dislocation, impingement, and fractures of the upper arm or collarbone.

Many shoulder injuries require immobilization to treat, which can severely limit a worker’s ability to do their job while the injury heals. More serious injuries may require surgery to repair and physical therapy to recover the range of motion. Shoulder injuries are also often quite painful, requiring pain medication. A worker with significant shoulder damage may be out of work for some time, or even permanently.


  1. Arm Injuries

The most frequently sustained arm injuries at work are sprains and strains of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints that make up the arm, including the elbow. Fractures (broken bones) are also common. Because the natural reflex in any kind of accident is to use the arms to protect the body, they can be exposed to hazards that cause cuts, burns, and other injuries as well.

When a worker hurts their arm on the job, tests such as X-rays may be needed to check for fractures. Depending on the type of injury, surgery may be needed to repair the damage, and physical therapy may be required to recover strength and range of motion. Arm injuries interfere with the worker’s ability to do most jobs, especially if the arm has to be immobilized during recovery, and a significant injury can cause permanent loss of strength or range of motion. As such, a workers’ compensation claim for an arm injury may include significant medical expenses as well as temporary or permanent disability.


  1. Ankle Injuries

Sprains, strains, and tears make up the majority of ankle injuries at work. That includes relatively minor injuries such as sprained and twisted ankles, but also more severe injuries such as torn and ruptured Achilles tendons. Broken ankles, too, can happen in many workplaces. The most common cause of ankle injuries is slip, trip, and falls.

Depending on the extent of the injury, treatment may be as simple as rest and ice or as complex and invasive as surgery. Even a fairly minor ankle injury, however, can significantly limit a worker’s mobility. Assistive devices may be needed to help the worker get around, and some workers may need to take time away from work or take on a “light duty” role with lesser pay during the recovery period. A workers’ compensation claim for an ankle injury should include the full cost of medical treatment as well as disability benefits if the injury interferes with the victim’s ability to work.


  1. Foot Injuries

The most frequently sustained foot injuries at work are fractures (broken bones). Stress fractures, tiny cracks in the bone, can occur over time by repetitive force or overuse in workers who are on their feet throughout the day. Fractures can also be caused by falls, heavy objects falling on the foot, or sometimes just taking a misstep or accidentally stepping on a hazard in the workplace. Other common foot injuries include burns, bruises, and lacerations.

Many foot injuries require immobilization to heal, and during that time, an injured worker’s ability to do their job may be limited. Physical therapy is sometimes needed to restore full use of the foot. In the case of a permanent injury, an injured worker may be entitled to permanent disability or schedule loss of use benefits, in addition to compensation for medical expenses and assistive devices.


  1. Leg Injuries

Leg injuries on the job range from relatively minor injuries such as pulled muscles, contusions, and sprains, to serious damage like tendon ruptures and broken bones. They can happen in any workplace via slip and falls, falls from heights, walking into objects, and vehicle crashes. In industrial settings, legs can also be caught in machinery.

As with any injury to the lower extremities, one of the consequences of a leg injury is a loss of mobility, which in turn can make it difficult for the injured worker to continue doing their job. Medical treatment for a leg injury may include diagnostic tests such as X-rays, surgery, and physical therapy to recover strength and range of motion. In addition to the full cost of medical treatment, workers’ compensation for a leg injury should include compensation for any disability caused by the injury, whether temporary or permanent.


  1. Wrist Injuries

The most common wrist injuries in the workplace are sprains and strains, often caused by overextension or lifting. In addition, work-related carpal tunnel syndrome, a repetitive stress injury (RSI) is common among employees in many fields. Most wrist injuries can be treated with ice and rest, but some may require surgery to correct.

Losing strength and range of motion in the wrist is a problem for employees in most jobs. In addition to the cost of medical treatment, a significant wrist injury can put an employee out of work for some time, or require them to take on lighter duties at potentially lower pay. Workers’ compensation should pay for the cost of medical treatment as well as certain benefits for temporary or permanent disability.


An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you move forward

The cost of a work injury can be substantial, but injured workers don’t have to bear those costs on their own. Workers’ compensation is supposed to pay for the full cost of all reasonable and necessary medical treatment, plus certain benefits if you have a temporary or permanent disability. It doesn’t matter who caused the accident – if you were at work when it happened, it’s covered.

However, the workers’ compensation insurance company will fight hard to downplay the extent of your injuries or dispute whether a particular treatment is reasonable and necessary. You don’t have to navigate the system and deal with the insurance company alone. If you’ve been hurt on the job, talk to a workers’ compensation lawyer in your area about your legal rights and options.

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