Can you get workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)?
Yes, you can. Such cases are known as repetitive trauma work injuries. You can get workers’ comp if you can:
- Properly document your job duties.
- Have a qualified doctor provide a persuasive medical opinion stating that what you did on the job caused or aggravated your carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
The best way to explain the Illinois law for repetitive trauma carpal tunnel injury cases is to look at the details of a recent example case.
In Brandi Brooks v. Illinois-American Water, Ms. Brooks worked as a customer service representative, and had been in the profession for about 14 years. Her duties in an 8 hour work day included:
- Talking on the phone with a headset
- Constant typing and operating the computer mouse (she is left-handed, but used the mouse with her right hand)
- She used a pen, but “not a whole lot.”
Here is a brief medical history of this case:
- Ms. Brooks’ last chosen treating doctor is a plastic and reconstructive hand surgeon who is board certified.
- He diagnosed mild left carpal tunnel syndrome. He thought the typing was probably the work activity which had most contributed to CTS. He recommended left wrist surgery.
- The insurance company’s IME or Independent Medical Exam doctor is board certified in orthopedic surgery, and specializes in hand and arm surgery.
- He diagnosed mild bilateral CUTS (cubital tunnel syndrome), right worse than left, and possible mild CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome). He claimed to not find any evidence that Ms. Brooks’ work activities put her at increased risk for CTS or CUTS .
At first, the Arbitrator ruled in favor of the injured worker. One of the main reasons was cited as the fact that the treating doctor was more familiar with the client’s condition than the IME doctor, who had only seen her for one exam.
Sadly, the Commission ended up reversing the Arbitrator’s decision, and ruled against the injured worker in this particular case. They were more persuaded by the IME doctor than the treating doctor.
This is very alarming because the IME doctor even, “…cited literature that suggests there is no relationship between the type of work activities Petitioner performed and CTS and one that actually indicated that typing can be protective against CTS.” Any experienced attorney or doctor who has seen enough carpal tunnel syndrome cases knows how easily such literature could be proven wrong by a qualified doctor.
In finding against the injured worker, the Commission noted that:
- While the treating doctor had seen her more than the IME doctor, the treating doctor had actually only seen her twice.
- She used her mouse with her right hand, while the CTS argued for by the treating doctor was on her left hand.
- There was no “forceful gripping / grasping and or significant vibratory impact” involved in this claim, which they claimed were now considered to be “the greatest risk factors associated with occupational CTS.”
Our office has handled and won many carpal tunnel syndrome work injury cases over the years. It appears that this case was a loss for the injured worker and her attorney (not with our firm) because her treating doctor failed to provide a persuasive and clear enough medical opinion to support her problem.
Back to the question: Can you get workers’ comp benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome? Yes, you can, if the activities of your job are likely to cause or aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome, and if your treating doctor’s opinion is more persuasive than the opinion of the hired gun of the insurance company, known as an IME or Independent Medical Exam doctor.
If you’d like to learn more about IME doctors and what they do in workers’ comp, read, “‘Independent’ Medical Exams (IME’s) in Workers’ Comp Cases: What Are They and What Are My Rights?“
If you’d like to learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome case issues, read, “Repetitive Trauma Work Injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).”
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Independent Medical Exam (IME), Repetitive Trauma