Workers' Compensation Coverage for Nerve Damage

Nerve damage caused by a workplace accident or repetitive stress is almost always covered by workers' compensation. Here's what to know before filing your claim.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

All types of work environments can lead to nerve damage and other nerve injuries. Some of these cases stem from falls or other sudden traumatic injuries, while others arise because of repetitive stress. No matter what the source, these injuries can be painful and debilitating, not to mention disruptive when it comes to your ability to make a living.

In this article we'll look at different types of nerve damage and how these kinds of on-the-job injuries can justify a claim for worker's compensation benefits.

Types of Nerve Damage in Workers' Comp Cases

There are primarily two categories of nerve damage, with numerous types of conditions (varying in severity) that can stem from each:

  • Bruising, tearing, or stretching of a nerve or the surrounding tissue. Usually caused more by an accident than by repetitive stress, this is the most serious type of nerve damage, and it can result in complete loss of function or movement (paralysis) or serious limitations on mobility and strength. Injuries in this category can even be permanent.
  • Pressure on nerves that block the transmission of signals to and from the brain. This condition is often caused by loss of blood supply to the area, whether from sudden trauma or stress on the area over time. In these cases, the nerve is generally not permanently damaged, and it may be regenerated over a period of months or years, if the pressure is relieved through surgery, physical rehabilitation, or other courses of treatment. This type of nerve damage can often be reversed within a few days or months.

The three most common causes of nerve damage are:

  • trauma
  • repetitive use (as in carpel tunnel syndrome), and
  • illness (such as diabetes, cancer, or an autoimmune disease, to name a few).

Generally, work-related injuries fall into the first two categories. In some occupations, such as construction and similar lines of work, nerve damage can be coupled with head or spinal trauma. These cases can result in the most serious type of nerve damage, including permanent disability, paralysis, and even death.

Workers' Comp Benefits for Nerve Damage

For those who suffer nerve damage injuries in the workplace or arising out of their jobs, workers' comp benefits are generally available.

Each state has laws in place that require most employers to pay into a workers' compensation insurance system, and in turn most injured employees are eligible to make a claim for workers' compensation benefits. (Notable exceptions are shipbuilders and dockworkers, railroad workers, and those working onboard a ship.)

Though the system varies from state to state, most injured employees can receive the following kinds of benefits via a workers' compensation claim:

  • weekly compensation
  • permanent impairment benefits
  • payment of medical bills, and
  • vocational rehabilitation.

(For a breakdown of the amount and types of benefits available, see How Much in Workers' Compensation Benefits Will You Get?).

Drawbacks to Workers' Compensation

For most injured workers, the biggest drawback to a workers' compensation claim is the fact that they can't file a lawsuit against the employer. The workers' compensation system is almost always an exclusive remedy for on-the-job injuries. Thus, although salary compensation and payment of medical bills are included in benefits, compensation for pain and suffering and other negative effects of the injuries is not an option.

When to Consult a Lawyer

Seeking workers' comp benefits for a minor workplace injury is fairly straightforward, and claims can usually be handled without an attorney. However, there are times when an employee may have difficulty in filing a workers' compensation claim, an employer disputes the claim, or the injured worker is allowed to step outside the confines of the workers' compensation system. In such cases, it's a good idea to discuss your case with an experienced workers' compensation attorney to make sure you get all the benefits you deserve.

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