Did you know that work injuries need not arise from a single traumatic event in order to be compensable under New Hampshire workers’ compensation law?
If you are working as a chef in a restaurant, and you slice your hand while dicing tomatoes, it is clear that you have suffered a work-related injury from a single trauma. But what if the injury occurs as a result of repeated traumas over time, rather than a single trauma? Suppose you dice tomatoes for the restaurant over the course of several years, each day subjecting your shoulder to repetitive movements in order to complete the task, and one day you suffer a sharp pain in your shoulder. You go to a doctor and learn that you have a rotator cuff tear. What caused it?
What caused an injury is a medical question that only a doctor can answer, but a doctor can only render an informed opinion on causation if you–the injured patient–describe for the doctor the activities in which you have engaged that may have affected the injured body part. In the case of the shoulder injury mentioned here, a doctor may very well conclude that the repetitive motions over time dicing the tomatoes ultimately caused the rotator cuff tear. If so, the injury is a compensable work-related injury, just as much as it would be if the shoulder injury occurred as the result of a distinct traumatic event rather than as a result of a series of traumas over time. Under New Hampshire workers’ compensation law, such an injury is called “cumulative trauma.”
While in theory an injury resulting from cumulative trauma is just as compensable in workers’ compensation as an injury resulting from a single traumatic event, in practice employees can face greater challenges obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for a cumulative trauma injury, simply because the cause of the injury is less obvious. If you suspect that you have suffered an injury as a result of repetitive activities that you have performed at work over a period of time, make certain that you describe the activities to your doctor when you seek treatment for the injury. If your doctor determines that the work activities caused or contributed to your injury, make certain that your doctor completes a New Hampshire Workers’ Compensation Medical Form so that you can pursue all the workers’ compensation benefits to which you may be entitled.