An occupational illness or disease is different from a regular job injury in that the injury occurs over a period of time rather than from a specific event.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common occupational diseases and is especially prevalent in jobs where a lot of repetitive motion is involved. Many office workers who type heavily have to deal with this condition.
Carpal tunnel is characterized by inflammation in tissue surrounding the wrist. This inflammation causes tissue to press down on nerves, which can eventually lead to acute pain in the hands and wrist
If you have a condition like carpal tunnel or thoracic outlet syndrome, workers’ comp rules in Colorado require that you report it to your employer when you know or should have known you had a medical condition caused by work-related activities.
Roget, a 27-year old mother of four who worked in a legal firm for several years, had a situation with carpal tunnel. Starting as a receptionist at the firm, Roget was eventually promoted to a paralegal. About a year into her new position as a paralegal, Roget started experiencing discomfort in her right wrist, which eventually gave way to acute pain.
Roget notified her supervisor, an attorney at the firm, that she was having difficulty in completing assigned task, especially ones involving typing. The attorney instructed Roget to discuss workers’ comp options with the firm’s human resources department.
This led Roget to an orthopedic surgeon who took an MRI of her wrist and immediately diagnosed her with carpal tunnel. After forwarding the diagnosis and prognosis to the insurance company, the surgeon assigned Roget a disability rating of 12% and recommended she be given light duty that didn’t include typing.
Therefore, the firm transferred Roget to the filing clerks’ pool but there was one problem – Roget’s pay was slashed dramatically, even with the 12% disability pay she was getting.
Roget told the firm she couldn’t survive on the reduced pay and felt the firm was treating her in a demeaning manner, especially considering her years at the company. While empathetic to her concerns, the firm told Roget that due to slow business, her loyalty over the years was the reason she was able to keep any kind of job at the firm. They told her the only other option would be to resign from the firm.
At this point, Roget decided to appeal the original rating and settlement award of 12%. She asked to see and be evaluated by another orthopedic surgeon who determined her impairment to be more around 22%. Roget however claimed her disability was, at minimum, 80%.
Frustrated with this rating, Roget appealed once again and found another surgeon she paid for herself. After another CAT Scan and MRI though, Roget’s surgeon could not find new evidence of disease or injury to the muscles, tendons or tissue in right wrist.
Unfortunately for Roget’s case, the surgeon was only able to increase her disability rating to 25%. After reviewing evidence from all 3 surgeons, the insurance company raised Roget’s disability to 25% but would go no higher.
In light of this decision, Roget gave her employer 30-days’ notice and in that time, found another job as a paralegal at a larger firm who had a substantial secretarial pool. This allowed Roget to work as a paralegal but give typing tasks to someone else. Best of all, her new position paid more than her original paralegal position before her injury.
One important point to remember – disability ratings are quite subjective in nature, meaning due to relatively intangible nature of diagnosing disability percentages, many workers feel their awards are lower than they should be. After exhausting the appellate process, your only recourse left is to resign and find another job.
Unfortunately for many, this is the reality.
To learn more about occupational illnesses like carpal tunnel and how you should go about reporting it and pursuing workers’ comp benefits in Colorado, check out the 1st chapter in our workers’ compensation guide.
And if you’re experiencing difficulty or would like the advice of experienced legal counsel (…highly recommended for obtaining the highest amount of benefits allowed by law), contact Denver workers’ compensation attorneys at the Babcock Law Firm today.