Musculoskeletal disorders are injuries or illnesses that often result from overexertion or repetitive tasks, affecting tendons, muscles, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and vertebrae.
In the U.S., most of the work-related musculoskeletal disorders that cause workers to miss 1 or more days of work involve the back. In fact, in 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that musculoskeletal disorders involving the back accounted for more than 38% of all work-related musculoskeletal disorders that year.
Common causes of back injuries in the workplace
Common causes of work-related back injuries include:
- Repetitive movement
- Poor posture while sitting
- Heavy/repetitive lifting
- Standing for extended periods of time
- Incorrect lifting techniques
- Slip, trip and fall accidents
Symptoms of back injuries
There are several signs that you have suffered a back injury. The most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty or stiffness when moving
- Pain radiating down the legs (1 or both)
- Muscle spasms on 1 or both sides of the spine
- Increased pain from movements such as sneezing, laughing and coughing
- Tenderness or pain when touched
- Difficulty or inability to stand up straight
- Burning/stabbing sensations
Signs of very serious back injury include:
- Blood in the urine
- Tingling or numbness in hands, arms, feet or legs
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Muscle spasms
Types of back injuries
Some of the most common types of work-related back injuries include sprains and sprains, bulging/herniated discs, and fractured vertebrae. Each of these back injuries is accompanied by specific symptoms.
Strains and sprains
These types of injuries can occur over time or from a single incident.
Strains most often are a result of pulling or twisting a tendon or muscle in the back. Sprains are often caused by a fall or some type of trauma to the back that’s frequently accompanied by a sharp “popping” sound when the injury occurs.
Difficulty walking, bending, or standing up straight, increased pain with some movements, and muscle cramps or spasms are the most common symptoms of strains and sprains.
The discs located in between the bones (or vertebrae) that make up your spine feature a tough exterior encasing a soft, jellylike center. A bulging/herniated disc occurs when the interior material escapes through a tear in the outer covering of the disk. The effect this has on surrounding nerves results in numbness or a tingling sensation, pain in the arms and or legs, and muscle weakness.
This type of injury is also known as a compression fracture. It’s caused by a gap or a crack in the vertebrae brought on by a fall or other trauma to the back. Symptoms include chronic, acute back pain, hunched-over posture and reduced height.
How does workers’ compensation help workers who become injured or ill on the job?
If an employee becomes injured or sick as a result of the work they’re doing, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits will cover any medical expenses that result from the injury as well as provide financial compensation, based on the employee’s wages and injury, while the employee recovers.
What is workers’ compensation?
Workers’ compensation, also known as workers’ comp, is a type of insurance paid for by employers; employees do not pay for this insurance.
In Alabama, any employer who has 5 or more full- or part-time employees is required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
There are some exceptions to this law. They include:
- Employers of farm laborers
- Employers who build detached residential dwellings for single families
- Employers of “casual employees,” defined as temporary laborers who are doing work that is not included in the employer’s regular, day-to-day business
- Employers of housekeepers, nannies or other domestic employees
Alabama workers’ compensation is also a no-fault insurance, which means that injured workers don’t need to prove their employer was at fault for their illness or injury to receive benefits. Workers only need to prove that their injury or illness arose out of their employment.
Types of workers’ compensation benefits
Alabama workers are typically entitled to the following benefits after a work injury.
Alabama workers’ compensation benefits include payment of all approved or court-ordered medical expenses for care relating to your work injuries, including hospital stays, emergency room and doctor’s visits, medications, rehabilitation, surgeries, medical supplies and artificial members.
Alabama law specifies that, except for emergencies, you must be treated by an employer-approved doctor to be covered under workers’ compensation.
The longer this issue drags out, the more stressful it becomes to the injured worker. Sadly, this situation is far too common in my experience while representing workers’ compensation clients during the past twenty years.
Injured workers will receive payment for lost wages if their accident leaves them unable to work or only able to work in a limited capacity. Workers’ comp pays two-thirds of your average weekly wage.
Once workers reach maximum medical improvement and are assigned a permanent impairment rating, additional compensation may be available. Please note that Alabama workers’ compensation doesn’t allow an injured worker to recover damages for pain and suffering.
If a work injury results in an employee’s death, their dependents are entitled to certain benefits, including compensation to cover funeral costs.
The process of filing a workers’ comp claim
Below are the essential steps to take after a work injury in Alabama to ensure you remain eligible for compensation.
Seek medical attention
Aside from the obvious reasons to seek medical treatment right away for your health and safety, it’s important that you do so in order to file an effective workers’ comp claim.
Back injuries are often ignored if there is no pain at the time of the accident. However, certain types of back injuries reveal themselves gradually, often after quite some time has passed. Prompt medical attention can detect the extent and seriousness—as well as the potential for future problems—of a back injury.
Failure to seek medical attention immediately after an accident or as soon as an injured worker becomes aware of their chronic injury can make it much more difficult to tie the injury to a work event and receive compensation.
Report your injury
Alabama law requires that a workplace injury be reported to your supervisor/manager within 5 days of the accident. In order to have confirmation that this was done, it’s a good idea to provide the notice in writing and to retain a copy of the dated notice.
In the event you become incapacitated, the notice may be given within 90 days. Beyond 90 days, the claim will be ruled invalid.
File a First Report of Injury Form
When you have reported the injury to your employer, they then bear the responsibility of filing a First Report of Injury Form. It will contain the details of your injury and how you sustained it. Information about your wages will also be listed on this form.
In the event your employer fails to or outright refuses to file this form, contact the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Ombudsman Program and speak with a workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible.
The deadline for filing a workers’ compensation claim
In Alabama, the deadline for filing a workers’ comp claim is 2 years from the date of the accident, but it is always best to file a claim as soon as possible following the injury.
“The statute of limitations for an employee to file a lawsuit is usually two years from the date of the accident. This time period typically begins when the employee is aware or should have been aware of the injury.”
“In most cases of on-the-job injuries, employees are immediately aware of the injury. However, there are instances where the injury may not be known until years later. For example, if an employee is in hazardous conditions for a long time and the effects of the injury only become noticeable later, they may not have been aware of the injury at the time of the exposure. In such cases, the statute of limitations would not start until the employee becomes conscious of the injury.”
“The delay in the employee knowing of the injury could be for various reasons, but the discovery must be reasonable under the circumstances. The key factor is the actual knowledge of the injury by the employee.”
How do you prove a back injury is job-related?
Part of your workers’ comp claim will be to prove that your back injury is job-related. The insurance company representing your employer will attempt to disprove this by citing any prior injuries you may have suffered from car accidents, falls, sports injuries, etc.
However, even if you do have an injury from a previous accident, you may still qualify for workers’ comp if the new injury has aggravated or exacerbated the pre-existing one, although the amount of financial compensation you’ll receive might be lower.
The pre-existing injury defense is used way too commonly by insurance companies to deny legitimate workers’ compensation claims.
Evidence that will support the fact that your back injury is work-related includes:
- Notes signed by your doctor indicating your diagnosis and specifying the injury is work-related
- Signed statements from coworkers who witnessed the accident or can verify that they saw you performing the repetitive motions or heavy lifting that resulted in your injury
- Workplace security footage of the accident or conditions that resulted in your back injury
- Treatment plans and medications provided by your doctor(s)
Reasons why a claim may be denied
There are several reasons a claim for workers’ compensation may be denied. They include the following:
- The employer was not notified of the accident/injury by the deadline.
- The injury/illness is not related to a workplace occurrence.
- The injury is a result of employee misconduct. If the injury was the result of employee misconduct, such as disregarding safety regulations, being intoxicated, horseplay, etc., then the workers’ comp claim can be denied.
The appeal process for a denied claim
Alabama is one of the few states that does not have an administrative court system that hears disputes over workers’ comp claims exclusively. This means that the appeal process in Alabama is extremely complex.
It would be in your best interest to speak with an experienced worker’s comp attorney who can help you with this process. They can help determine if your appeal has merit and assist you in navigating the court system to ensure all deadlines and other requirements are met.
Contact an Alabama workers’ compensation lawyer
Experiencing a work injury is stressful, especially when it requires you to miss work. You may experience mounting medical bills, and your savings can be quickly depleted. An experienced workers’ comp attorney will protect your rights and help you get the money you need to provide for yourself and your family.
If you’ve suffered a back injury while working in Alabama, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Nomberg Law Firm. We can negotiate with your employer and their insurance company on your behalf so you can focus on recovering from your injury. Contact us today, and let us devise an individualized plan for you.
About Nomberg Law Firm
Nomberg Law Firm has been helping people in Alabama recover fair compensation for their injuries since 1967. We know our clients are hard-working men and women who deserve the best representation possible. That’s why we’ve dedicated our entire practice to fighting for your rights after an injury.
The small size of our family-owned firm allows us to focus on our client’s needs and enables us to provide individualized assistance and personal attention that larger firms simply can’t match.
Contact us today for a free consultation.