Workers’ compensation repetitive use injuries in Florida represent a subset of on-the-job injuries relating to specific wear and tear on the body due to specific job functions required to perform the particular job. Occupational repetitive stress injuries comprise more than one hundred different types of job-induced injuries and illnesses resulting from wear and tear on the body. Repetitive use injuries are one of the fastest growing workplace injuries, and can result any time there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the human body. Specific risk factors that can cause RSIs include repetitive motion, force, awkward posture, heavy lifting, or a combination of these factors.
Imagine the following hypothetical worker: John is employed as a service foreman for a Fire Sprinkler Installer. As part of his job, John typically stands on ladders to install/replace fire sprinklers. This job function requires him to keep his neck in a 45° angle tilted to the side while he used tools to perform the installation/replacement work. If John begins experiencing significant pain in his neck as a result of the job related positioning of his neck. Would this type of injury be compensable? Possibly; we will analyze the preceding fact pattern under the following legal standard for workers’ compensation repetitive use injuries in Florida.
In Florida, an injury need not occur as a result of the single traumatic event in order to be compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. In Festa v. Teleflex, Inc. 382 So.2d 122, 124 (Fla. 1st DCA 1980), the court set forth a three – pronged test required to show compensability for repetitive trauma and exposure injuries:
- Prolonged exposure. There is no minimum temporal threshold, and even a period of exposure a short as two weeks may be sufficient. J & J Enterprises v. Oweis, 733 So.2d 1149, 1150 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999)
- The cumulative effect of which is injury or aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
- The employee has been subjected to a hazard greater than that to which the public is exposed. This prong has now been determined to be a alternative theory for compensability. Injured workers need only show a series of occurrences, the cumulative effect of which is injury. The law does not require injured workers to show, additionally, that the job subjected them to a hazard greater than that to which the public is exposed. Rodriguez v. Frito – Lay, Inc. 600 So.2d 1167, 1172.
- In 1992, the Florida Supreme Court added a fourth prong to the test:For a pre-existing condition to be compensable, it must be exacerbated by some non—routine, job-related physical exertion, or by some form of repeated physical trauma. University of Florida v. Massie, 602 So. 2d 516, 524 (Fla. 1992).
The hypothetical case outlined above is analogous to the facts in Lousiana Pacific Corp. v. Harcus, 774 So.2d 751 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000). In that case, the court agreed that the claimant had established the compensable accident under a repeated trauma theory. In that case, the 49-year-old claimant worked in various position that the employer, sawmill, most recently as a millwright. Every position he held during his 24 – year career involved arduous physical labor, including heavy lifting on daily basis. During March 1998, claimant began experience pain in his hip and leg. He did not identify any specific incident that caused the pain, but rather referred to many of his job duties that involved heavy physical labor, and he reported that the pain developed gradually. After learning from his family physician that the pain related to a back condition, claimant sought compensation benefits. The carrier had completely denied the claim, including the request for medical treatment. In resolving the claim for compensation benefits, the JCC found the stenosis compensable under a repetitive trauma theory based on claimant’s and his physician’s testimony, and concluded that the claimant’s heavy lifting and repetitive bending while working for the employer over the course of more than 20 years cause the stenosis and resultant disability arising in March 1998. He also ruled that the repetitive trauma was the major contributing cause of the stenosis. The DCA stated the following:
“…. In our judgment, there was, under the circumstances, no burden on the claimant to prove that the stenosis was the major contributing cause of the disability, because section 440.09 (1) (b), Florida Statutes (1997) does not apply under the facts of this case. The stenosis is not a pre-existing condition within the meaning of section 440.09 (1)(b), and there was only one cause, rather than multiple causes, of claimant’s disability and need for treatment…. The record before us discloses, and the JCC below, implicitly found by granting benefits, that the employment – related injury was the only cause of the claimant’s disability. Because there was only one cause, the burden imposed by the elevated major – contributing cause standard is inapplicable. As this court observed in Closet – Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) , the term major contributing cause requires the existence of two or more causes and means that the workplace accident contributes more to the disability need for treatment than any other single cause. Although it is true that the JCC found that the major contributing cause of claimant stenosis was the repetitive work activity, this finding was unnecessary, because it implies that more than one cause combined bring about the disability…. The dissent, moreover, disregards the somewhat unique nature of repetitive trauma injuries, in which, as stated, the disabling condition does not immediately arise following a single incident, but gradually occurs following a cumulative series of incidents over an extended time frame…”
If you have questions regarding repetitive use injuries in Florida, or any other Florida workers’ comp question, contact one of our attorneys for a free consultation.