If you are injured at work — including carpal tunnel syndrome — you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This is true for all types of repetitive stress injuries and/or trauma including:
- Tendinosis (damage to tendons);
- Cubital tunnel syndrome;
- Carpal tunnel syndrome;
- De Quervain syndrome (thickening of the tendons and the synovial sheaths that affecting the muscles that function to move the thumb away from the hand);
- Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow); and
- Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).
What is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”) is “a condition that causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms in the hand and arm … caused by a compressed nerve in the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway on the palm side of your wrist.” The nerve that is being compressed is called the median nerve. The median nerve controls movement and feeling in your thumb and first three fingers. As noted above, CTS is only one of many types of repetitive stress injuries (“RSI”).
Not Just Greenville Office Workers
Most people think of RSI being limited to office workers bent over their computers who develop carpal tunnel in their hands and wrists. However, RSI has been found where a worker used six-, eight-, and 10-pound hammers to modify saw blades to customer specifications. See King v. International Knife & Saw, 718 SE 2d 227 (S. Car. App. 2011). And RSI can result in a back injury for which workers compensation is available. See Rhame v. Charleston County School Dist., 781 SE 2d 151 (S. Car. App. 2015).
Indeed, beyond data entry and computer work, the US National Institute of Health (“NIH”) and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (“CCOSH”) both list many other occupations and industries where repetitive tasks done by workers can — and often do — result in RSI:
- Any line of work involving assembling product using small tools;
- Any work involving pressing or pulling machinery like a drill press or lathe;
- Cloth making/weaving using looms and needles, or pulling and pushing cloth through machines;
- Cleaning/waste management by repetitively scrubbing using small implements;
- Food processing using knives and tools to cut, debone, etc.;
- Farming involving repetitive motions such as picking produce;
- Machine repairs using small hand-tools;
- Gardening involving use of hand-tools and the vibrations from power cutters;
- Commercial painters and drywallers using joint compound tools, brushes, scrapers, etc.;
- Musicians involving repetitive motions and fingering; and
- Any line of work constantly using laser scanners (retail cashiers, medical professionals).
RSI is associated with any type activity that involves:
- Repetitive hand, arm, back or leg motions;
- Awkward hand or arm or stooping positions;
- Strong gripping, pushing or pulling;
- Mechanical stress on the hands, arms, back or legs; and
- Vibration (e.g., jackhammers and lawn mowers).
Greenville Workers’ Compensation Benefits Are Available for RSI
If you develop carpal tunnel or some other RSI because of your job, you are entitled to benefits under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”). See S.C. Code Ann. § 42-1-10 et seq.
The South Carolina Supreme Court held that carpal tunnel and other RSIs are compensable under the Act in the case of Pee v. AVM, Inc., 573 SE 2d 785 (S.C. 2002).
When Do You Have to Notify Your Greenville Employer of Your RSI?
If you have suffered a workplace RSI, you must give notice to your employer “… within 90 days of the date the employee discovered, or could have discovered by exercising reasonable diligence, that his condition is compensable…” See S.C. Code § 42-15-20(c).
What this law means has been subject to much debate. South Carolina courts have now resolved this to mean that the ninety day deadline begins to run when EITHER
- The RSI requires medical care; OR
- When the RSI interferes with the workers’ ability to perform his or her job.
The reason for this debate is that a repetitive trauma or stress injury is gradual in onset and is caused by the cumulative effects of the repetitive events. Each repeating event is like a micro-accident or micro-injury. Consequently, it is difficult to determine exactly when RSI begins. As such, some employers have tried to argue that a worker’s 90 day deadline is triggered when the worker first experiences pain. That argument has been rejected by several South Carolina courts. See King v. International Knife (holding that “[a]n employee’s obligation to report a work-related repetitive trauma injury is not triggered by the onset of pain …).
Rhame v. Charleston County School District provides a good illustration. Rhame suffered RSI to his back over more than 15 years of working for his employer. The evidence showed that he began experiencing back pain as early as 1994 or 1995. However, Rhame continued to work his same duties for the District for many years, was never given any light duty restrictions, and never missed work for more than “a day or two, here and there, for pulled muscles.”
His employer tried to argue that he knew about his RSI-related back injury as early as 1994. If so, then he would have been time-barred from seeking workers’ compensation because he did not notify the District back in 1994. The court rejected that argument, finding that the fact that Rhame could — and did — work meant that the progressive RSI had not yet interfered with his ability to work. The court found that the progressive symptoms did not require Rhame to seek medical care until the late 2000s, at which point the court found that Rhame gave timely notice and he was awarded his workers’ compensation benefits.
Call David R. Price, Jr., P.A., Attorneys at Law Today
If you have experienced a work-related RSI or if you think you might be experiencing symptoms of an RSI, contact the workers’ compensation attorneys at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. in Greenville. David grew up in Greenville and has been helping South Carolina workers and their families obtain their benefits since 2006. A workplace injury can be devastating physically, mentally and financially, and trying to navigate workers’ compensation system by yourself will only add to your stress. Call the workers’ compensation attorneys at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. today for a free consultation and help with your claim.