The vast majority of workplace injuries are covered by workers’ compensation, and that includes repetitive-stress type injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
If you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of work-related activities, it is important that you understand your state’s workers’ compensation insurance system. Workers’ compensation (sometimes referred to as “workman’s compensation”) may be your only means of receiving compensation. Read on to learn more about worker's compensation in the context of a carpal tunnel injury.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by compression of the median nerve and the tendons that flex your fingers as they travel through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. This tunnel is narrow, so even a small amount of swelling may compress the nerve and tendons. This compression can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the hand and wrist.
The responsibility of your employer depends upon the nature of the injury sustained, as well as whether the injury was directly attributable to work-related tasks.
Most states require that employers provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. If your carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of work-related tasks, by law you're probably entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation is a tradeoff: in exchange for the employee forfeiting his or her right to sue the employer for the damages caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, the employee can receive benefits for work-related injuries without regard to fault. This is known as the “compensation bargain.”
Thus, workers’ compensation may be the only means of recovery for carpal tunnel syndrome. This means that you cannot initiate a civil lawsuit against your employer to recover damages. Instead, you must file a claim through your state’s administrative workers’ compensation agency.
"Employer" is a broad term that will be defined by your state’s workers’ compensation statute. It will include natural persons and entities such as corporations and partnerships. However, depending upon your state, your employer may be excluded from the workers’ compensation system.
Employers that are typically exempt are those that do not employ the statute’s minimum number of employees, do not have a minimum amount of payroll per calendar quarter, or are a particular type of employer, such as a charity or public entity.
You may have more than one employer for workers’ compensation purposes. For example, if your carpal tunnel syndrome was brought about by a lifetime of labor for various employers, your previous employer (or employers) may be considered your employer for workers’ compensation purposes, even though you haven’t actually worked for any of them in years. This again depends upon your state’s workers’ compensation statute.
Typically, an employer is only required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for its employees. Thus, independent contractors are not covered because they are not employees. However, an injured worker thought to be an independent contractor may have been misclassified. Whether or not someone is an employee or independent contractor is determined by a judge or referee at the Workers’ Compensation Board, not by the employer and employee. How the parties actually label themselves may be considered, but typically those labels alone will not decide the issue.
Most states will cover the following benefits for those suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome:
See Making a Workers Compensation Claim for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome for more on what you'll need.
The amount of benefits that you are entitled to receive for carpal tunnel syndrome may be limited by the workers' compensation rules in your state. Some states have a list of specific injuries, so that a dollar amount is specially designated for benefits arising from carpal tunnel syndrome. Other states mandate that compensation is based on a scale or rating of the severity of your injuries or disabilities.