Continuous trauma under attack

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Workers’ compensation law is different in every state. Most, but not all, states require coverage for injuries that take place over time rather than as a result of a specific event. California does require coverage for these “continuous trauma” injuries. Many of such injuries take place over a long period of time. If you lift heavy material for 15 or 20 years your back and/or knees may wear out. The same is true if you bend to scrub floors and make beds and clean toilets. If you handle or inhale chemicals for many years they might cause cancer. If your work is physically and/or emotionally stressful it may cause or contribute to serious health problems like hypertension.

These are often injuries that will never be completely “cured.” This lack of a concrete, visible “event” that causes a visible “injury” with blood and gore, combined with the long term treatment requirements make this type of injury complicated for the workers’ compensation insurer that is required to provide treatment and benefits for all injuries that arise out of and occur in the course of employment.

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Over time California has developed procedures for determining whether an injury, including a continuous trauma injury, arose out of and occurred in the course of employment. It should be apparent that the continuous trauma claims are often more difficult, time consuming, and expensive to prove or disprove. This makes them unpopular with employers and insurance companies. As the political climate leans toward big money and big business, those interests gain power and do what they can to make things easier for themselves at the expense of workers, consumers, and “the little guy.” It is likely that the laws allowing claims for continuous trauma injuries are going to be a target of the “business interest” in the legislature who see workers and their problems as nuisances that make it harder for them to make a profit.

Those of us who see workers as “part of our team” rather than expendable, replaceable units, believe that it is a legitimate and reasonable function of government to make sure that laws protect the majority of the people, particularly those who have less personal individual power. We are concerned that there are indications that members of the California legislature may be requested to do away with this protection for workers who have sacrificed their bodies in service of an employer for the convenience of large employers and insurance carriers. Workers who have worked their whole life in service to an employer and who have, as a result, suffered injury and harm to themselves should not have the protection promised to them throughout that employment demeaned and withdrawn.

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