$1.5 Million to Illinois Prison Workers for Repetitive Stress Injuries

Since 2009, 25 employees at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois have received a total of $1.5 million in workers' compensation benefits for repetitive stress injuries they sustained while working at the facility. The individual settlements range from $21,000 to more than $119,000.

In their workers' comp claims, the wardens said they had sustained repetitive stress injuries to their wrists and hands from performing routine job functions, like locking and unlocking cell doors, performing bar taps and applying and removing handcuffs from inmates.

The prison is one of three large maximum security facilities in Illinois and the only one of the three not to use electronic systems to control the locking mechanisms on the facility's doors. Instead, wardens have to manually lock and unlock the doors multiple times throughout each work day, leading to the development of repetitive stress injuries in some of the workers.

Workplace Repetitive Stress Injuries

Repetitive stress injuries are one of the most common types of workplace injuries. Also referred to as cumulative trauma disorder, overuse injuries and repetitive trauma injuries, these injuries develop when workers perform the same functions day in and day out without allowing sufficient time for their bodies to rest and properly heal.

Throughout the day, minor damage happens continuously to the body's soft tissues, which the body normally repairs. However, in repetitive stress injuries, the rate of damage exceeds what the body is able to repair, weakening the tissues and putting the body at risk for greater harm. In some people, inflammation of the weakened tissues will occur, causing pain. Increased risk of injury is often associated with repetitive job tasks such as griping and grasping or stooping and bending.

The functions performed by the worker can be low stress, like typing or working at a desk, or high stress, like running an assembly line or performing manual labor. Repetitive stress injuries usually affect workers' upper extremities, including the arms, wrists, hands, neck and shoulders, but also may affect other areas of the body; such as the back.

Some of the most common types of repetitive stress injuries include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: compression of the median nerve at the wrist characterized by tingling, pain and/or numbness in the wrist, hands and fingers

  • Cubital tunnel syndrome: compression of the ulnar nerve at the elbow, causing pain in the elbow, forearm, hand, and/or fingers
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome: compression of blood vessels and nerves in the thoracic outlet between the rib cage and collar bone, causing pain, tingling and/or numbness in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands and/or fingers
  • Tendinitis: inflammation of a tendon caused by microscopic tears in the tissue

Workers who perform repetitive motions also may suffer from neck and back pain, joint pain in their knees and hips and foot pain from fasciitis or tarsal tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms and Treatment of Repetitive Stress Injuries

Since repetitive stress injuries usually develop gradually over time, it may take months or years before workers realize they have an injury and that the injury has been caused or worsened by their work duties. Some of the symptoms of repetitive stress injuries include:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tightness
  • Numbness, tingling
  • Swelling, redness
  • Loss of strength
  • Tenderness, warmth in affected area
  • Decrease in range of motion

The hallmark of a repetitive stress injury is that the pain increases when the worker performs an activity that requires use of the affected area, like an assembly line worker who experiences shoulder pain when he reaches over his head. Likewise, the pain generally decreases once the activity is stopped.

Most repetitive stress injuries are treated nonoperatively. In some cases, the injured worker will be able to treat the injury at home with elevation and ice packs. In other cases, a physician may give the worker steroid (cortisone) injections. Range of motion exercises and physical therapy also may help relieve the pain as well as the use of over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen and aspirin.

In rare cases, the injured worker may require surgery to relieve the compression on the nerve (like in some carpal tunnel cases) or to repair a torn ligament or herniated disk.

Workers' Compensation Benefits for Repetitive Injuries

Under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act, repetitive stress injuries are compensable injuries. To receive workers' compensation benefits for these injuries, the injured worker must prove the date of the injury. Since repetitive stress injuries develop gradually over time, it can be difficult to prove when the injury first manifested itself. In Illinois, workers with repetitive stress injuries generally can use one of two dates as the date of injury:

  • The date the injury first became known to the worker and a reasonable person would know that the injury was related to performance of work duties
  • The last date of work prior to the worker no longer being able to perform his or her work duties

Injured workers also must be able to prove that the repetitive stress injury is a result of their job duties. To be compensable, the injury cannot be the result of activities the worker performs outside of work, like sports or other recreational activities. Likewise, the injury cannot be the result of normal degenerative aging.

Some examples of work activities that have been linked to compensable repetitive stress injuries include:

  • Assembly line work
  • Gripping or squeezing
  • Lifting arms overhead
  • Using vibrating tools, hand tools or power tools
  • Activities requiring flexing and extending of the wrists
  • Typing
  • Lifting

Those who bring successful workers' comp claims for repetitive stress injuries may receive compensation to cover their medical expenses and treatment and a portion of their wages until they are able to return to work. Settlements are based on the nature and extent of the injury.

Conclusion

For more information on filing a workers' comp claim for a repetitive stress injury, contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney today. A lawyer knowledgeable in bringing these types of claims also can help you appeal a denial of benefits through the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission.