Under the Florida Workers Compensation Law, benefits are paid based upon disability. What is disability? Disability means you are unable to earn the same wages you were earning at the time of injury due to injury. To prove disability you need to show a casual connection between your loss of wages and the injury. To do this, you need your doctor to state that your injury is the reason for your loss of earnings. Without this medical evidence, your workers’ compensation claim will go nowhere.
Even with evidence of disability and loss of earnings, your claim will still go nowhere unless you timely report the claim. Under Florida’s workers’ compensation law, you must report your injury to your employer within 30 days from when the injury occurred. If you fail to report the injury; then you could lose your right to benefits. It is always a good idea to report the injury in writing so that there is a record of it. Even if it is just in an e-mail or text message to your employer; there will be proof that you informed them. It is harder to prove that you reported it if was just reported verbally.
No singular event or typical injury
But, what if you did not actually have an accident at work? It is easy to know when you fall off of a ladder or slip and fall down the stairs that an accident occurred, and then easy to figure out the 30 days from that date. But, what if instead of experiencing an accident you simply feel pain that increases as time goes on from engaging in certain work activity? For example, carpal tunnel syndrome can occur from repetitive activity such as typing or the use of the hands. Or, one can suffer a back injury from repeat lifting of heavy items. These types of injuries stem from repeated use of an arm or hand. There are other types of repetitive exposure cases where one is continually exposed to a toxic substance or suffers repeated trauma from overuse to certain parts of the body. For example, someone that has to do repeated bending or certain movement can eventually hurt or develop a traumatic injury. These types of injuries generally develop over time and do not occur suddenly.
30-day reporting requirement
The 30-day reporting requirement is still there even with these repetitive type injuries. The question is when do the 30 days start to pass. The Law states that the 30 days runs from the date of accident or initial manifestation of the injury. What if you do not know if or when you are experiencing an injury? 30 days may pass and you may not even know it. To be fair, the courts have interpreted this to mean that you should be aware that the repetitive use or repeat exposure to trauma is causing an injury. This does not mean that a doctor has to tell you that the work-related activity is causing your injury.
Also, the way the Law is worded can be confusing. Remember, the Law states you must report injury 30 days from “Initial manifestation”. This seems to imply the first time you experienced the problematic activity. However, the statute also says that the 30 days can count from the date of injury. Even though this type of injury is not a “typical injury”, it still is an “injury.” Courts have determined that the date of last exposure to something that is causing harm is considered the date of injury. So, for example, if you are typing on a computer you are harming yourself every day that you type causing carpal tunnel syndrome. But then you stopped typing one day and changed jobs; the day you stopped would be your date of injury. So, even though you might have been typing and exposing yourself to harm for many months or years when you stop doing the harmful activity, that is the date of last exposure or the date of injury.
Thus, you would have 30 days from when you stopped doing the activity, such as typing, to report the injury to your employer. Of course, you would always want to report an injury as soon as possible to avoid the employer getting off of the hook for your workers’ compensation claim. Carriers raise multiple defenses to limit or get out of liability altogether. The 30-day timely reporting requirement is one defense that often gets raised. If successful, your claim can be entirely denied and dismissed if not timely reported. So, do not wait. Always report your claim early.
Higher Burden to Prove Compensability
Another thing to think about with this repeated exposure or repetitive trauma injuries is that they are more difficult to prove and require more evidence. In order to prove a compensable injury from exposure and/or repetitive trauma, you need to show (1) prolonged exposure, (2) the cumulative effect of which is injury or aggravation of a pre-existing condition, and (3) the job subjected you to a hazard greater than that to which the public is exposed. Essentially, you need to prove that “but for” the employment the resulting injury would not have occurred.
The exposure does not necessarily mean that the problem was created over the course of a long period of time. The exposure does not even have to be repeated but can just be from a single exposure. For example, carrying a very heavy object once can cause a traumatic exposure injury.
In addition, both causation and sufficient exposure to support causation must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is a very high burden of proof, which basically means beyond any doubt.
Even in a typical injury situation; in Florida, the burden is on an injured worker to prove compensability. For all injuries, an injured worker needs to prove disability by a reasonable degree of medical certainty based on objective relevant medical findings; and also that the accident is the major contributing cause of any resulting injuries with objective medical evidence. Complaints of pain are not enough.
As demonstrated in this article, if you become injured from a repeated exposure or trauma type of injury; it is often more difficult to prove a compensable accident. The carrier will likely raise several defenses, one of them usually being that it was not timely reported within 30 days. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you navigate the system and ensure that you not only obtain the benefits that you are entitled, but help you maximize your benefits. If you have suffered a work-related injury, contact us at the LaBovick Law Group to see what benefits you may be entitled to. We provide free consultations where we will review the facts of your case to determine the right course for you. Call us today at (561) 625-8400 for your free evaluation.