What Is Cumulative Trauma?

The legal system includes a variety of terminology that can seem confusing to non-lawyers, and the workers’ compensation system is no exception.  It is important to understand some of the basic terminology used in the workers’ compensation system to best defend your business.  One important different to understand is the difference between specific trauma and cumulative trauma.  Specific trauma is the kind of injury that typically comes to mind when you think of workers’ compensation, such as a broken arm in a car accident or a concussion from a fall from a ladder.  Cumulative trauma is a bit more nuanced.

Cumulative trauma, also referred to as a “repetitive stress injury,” is an injury sustained from repetitive stress or motions over time.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is the classic example of cumulative trauma, as it takes repeated motion, performed over time, in order to actually develop carpal tunnel.  Another example is the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy sustained by professional football players as a result of sustaining multiple concussions.  Cumulative trauma is a compensable injury under the workers’ compensation system, just like specific trauma.

Like specific trauma injuries, workers must bring a claim for cumulative trauma within a specific time frame.  Under California Labor Code § 5412, the worker must bring a claim within one year of discovering the claim or within a year of when the claim should have been discovered, had he or she been exercising reasonable diligence and care.

The California Workers’ Compensation Institute found that on average, cumulative trauma injuries were 53% more expensive than specific trauma cases.  In addition, workers claiming a cumulative trauma injury were much more likely to be independently represented by their own attorneys.  The institute also found that cumulative trauma is most prevalent in the manufacturing industry, which is attributable to the repetitive manual motions typically required of the workers.  Moreover, the study found that a worker claiming a cumulative trauma is ten times more likely to claim another injury.  With these types of statistics, it is clear that it is essential that you have a firm understanding on cumulative trauma and how to protect your business and your workers from these types of injuries and claims.

We have extensive knowledge in helping our clients understand cumulative trauma and the potential impact on their business.  Call us today for a consultation.

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