Maritime employees rely on the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) to pay for their injuries after an accident. However, many of these injuries take place not on a single day, but over months and years of performing the same activities over and over again. Using the same muscle groups to perform repetitive tasks can cause those parts of the body to wear down, resulting in cumulative trauma disorders—commonly known as repetitive stress injuries.
Common Types of Maritime Repetitive Motion Injuries
A repetitive motion injury is any injury that arises due to repeated exposure to trauma, such as pushing, pulling, lifting, vibration, high noise levels, or sustained body positions. These injuries are often painful and require expensive diagnostic procedures, surgery, ongoing rehabilitative treatments, and permanent changes in a worker’s ability to earn a living.
The most common repetitive strain injuries suffered by sailors and dockworkers include:
- Elbow and wrist injuries. Repeated wrist movements can cause inflammation of the tendons, resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome or cubital tunnel syndrome. Sustained gripping may cause DeQuervain syndrome, making it nearly impossible for workers to move their thumbs without pain, while tennis elbow affects the ability to lift or maintain certain arm positions.
- Finger injuries. Repeated actions can cause the fingers to curl or contract permanently, while extreme cold or vibration from power tools may cause circulation problems in the fingers (Raynaud’s Disease). Overuse of index fingers and thumbs may result in “trigger finger” injuries in these tendons, or even numbness and tingling due to nerve damage.
- Arm and shoulder conditions. Rowing and pulling motions can lead to inflammation of the ligaments and painful nerve impingement, causing conditions such as radial tunnel syndrome and thoracic outlet syndrome. Improper lifting and awkward positioning is a major cause of rotator cuff syndrome, a shoulder injury that can impose permanent lifting restrictions on an employee.
- Joint injuries. Tendinitis (inflammation in the tendons) and bursitis (inflammation of the fluid-filled sac that cushions a joint) can affect fingers, knees, elbows, and any other joint in the body.
- Hearing loss. Hearing loss is often overlooked as a repetitive stress injury, but is nevertheless caused by repeated exposure to loud noises or low-level vibrations of an engine or heavy equipment.
Employers Must Shoulder the Cost of Repetitive Motion Injuries
There are a number of problems employees may face when filing a claim for repetitive stress injuries. An employer may dispute the exact cause of the injury, claiming that the employee’s work duties were not primarily to blame. In addition, employers may dispute the timeframe of the injury, since many workers suffer these injuries for years before filing a maritime injury report.
It is important to remember that employers are liable for the costs of a repetitive strain injury as long as it was caused by:
- Daily work activities. Employers are required to cover repetitive motion injuries just as they would injuries sustained in sudden accidents. If an employee reports pain or a diagnosis of an injury, the employee must immediately stop the work that is causing or contributing to the injury and provide the appropriate maintenance and cure payments.
- Aggravation of a preexisting condition. Repetitive use injuries may result due to the aggravation of a preexisting injury, such as a torn rotator cuff or meniscus tear. Employers can be liable for lost wages and disability payments that result from the aggravation of a previous injury.
- Environmental conditions. The working conditions in maritime employment are inherently dangerous, but employers have a duty to make them as safe as possible. For example, employers can minimize the risk of hearing loss to employees by implementing sound reduction measures, providing personal ear protection, and ensuring that hearing protection equipment is properly maintained.
- Negligence. Maritime workers may be owed additional compensation for their claims if their repetitive stress injuries resulted from employer negligence. Common forms of negligence include forcing employees to hold awkward or stressful positions for too long, failing to teach proper lifting and carrying techniques, and skipping rest breaks during physically demanding tasks.
If you have been diagnosed with a repetitive use injury, we can help you get the payment you deserve for your medical treatment and lost ability to earn a living. Contact us online or call us directly at 212.465.8840 to schedule your free consultation with a maritime injury lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer.