Pursuing a cumulative trauma claim

It is natural to think that to have a legal claim for a work-related injury, the injury must be major or serious, but that it not always true. California law allows cumulative trauma claims for cumulative trauma injuries sustained in the workplace.

What is cumulative trauma?

The California Labor Code specifically defines a cumulative injury as one that occurs from a repetitive physically or mentally traumatic activity that extends over a period of time, if the combined effect of the activity leads to a disability or medical treatment.

Cumulative trauma occurs when portions of your body, such as muscles or tendons, develop strain from persistent wear and tear over time. When this happens, you may be diagnosed with a cumulative trauma disorder. This disorder has many different names, and may be called overuse syndrome, a repetitive use disorder or a repetitive strain injury.

Although cumulative trauma disorder is more common in jobs that involve a high amount of physical work, the reality is that they can occur in almost any industry, and even in office jobs.

Cumulative trauma on portions of the body can result from things such as an uncomfortable work position or an exerting or moving a part of the body in a repetitive manner. Lifting, carrying or moving items repeatedly over time can also cause cumulative trauma disorder. Even if performing the activity in isolation would not cause cumulative trauma, making a worker perform the activity repeatedly without adequate break time could result in cumulative trauma.

Additionally, a cumulative trauma disorder need not involve a physical injury but may include mental trauma or distress.

How do I know when my disorder started?

 Because a cumulative trauma disorder is caused from activities that occurred over a period of time, it can be difficult to determine the date the disorder started. Under the California Labor Code, the date the disorder began is defined as the date the employee knew, or should have known through reasonable diligence, that the disability was caused by their employment.

If you have been diagnosed with cumulative trauma disorder and wonder if you have a claim, the process can be long and complicated. It is important to gather as much information about your injuries as possible, including dates and any treatment received. Consulting with an experienced attorney could help.