MINNEAPOLIS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAWYERS: WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS AFTER A CUMULATIVE (GILLETTE) INJURY?
Is a cumulative injury, also known as a Gillette injury, covered under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act?
Sometimes workers suffer injuries that are not the result of a singular event, but rather are the result of minute, cumulative trauma over time. These injuries that are a result of repetitive trauma over time are called Gillette injuries, named after a specific workers’ compensation case that went to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1960. See Gillette v. Harold, Inc., 257 Minn. 313, 101 N.W.2d 200, 21 W.C.D. 105 (1960).
A Gillette injury is where repeated minute trauma results in a compensable injury when the cumulative effect is sufficiently serious to disable an employee from further work, or to require the employee to seek medical care. The Minnesota Supreme Court confirmed that in the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, “a gradual breakdown of a part of the employee’s body due to constant and continued use in performing duties of a particular job which caused disability is considered a personal injury.” Gillette. While evidence of specific work activities causing specific symptoms leading to disability is important for these types of injuries, whether an employee has sustained a Gillette injury primarily depends on medical evidence. This means it is very important with these types of injuries to have a treating doctor who will support that the repeated work activities over time have caused the condition or disability, and to have an attorney who understands how to elicit detailed descriptions of job activities and how those could be connected to a diagnosis or need for treatment.
Some common examples of common Gillette-type injuries that would likely be covered under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act are the following:
- An Employee works for a road construction company and is required to shovel, rake, and move dirt, many hours at a time that require wrist flexion and extension, over many months. Eventually, the employee develops wrist and hand symptoms and has difficulty squeezing and releasing the tools. As a result, he seeks medical care and the doctor diagnoses him with carpal tunnel.
- An Employee works 12 hour shifts, four (4) or more days per week in a warehouse putting together small electronic parts that require the use of pinching, grasping, and squeezing with force of the Employee’s pointer finger. Over time, the employee develops locking and cramping in her finger and is ultimately diagnosed with trigger finger.
These are just two small examples of somewhat common types of cumulative trauma injuries. Cumulative trauma injuries can also include the Employee’s spine, or major orthopedic joints, such as the knee or shoulder. They are not just limited to hands, wrists, and the like.
The ultimate question is whether the work activities are a substantial contributing factor to the development of the need for treatment and disability, even if those activities are not overtly physically demanding or challenging.
However, this is often difficult with Gillette-type injuries, because many times, employees may begin treating with a medical providers months after the initial development of those symptoms. Also, sometimes, the Employee may be treating for weeks, months, or even years before either the Employee (or the doctor treating the Employee) recognizes the Employee’s work activities are likely a substantial contributing factor to the need for treatment.
Even in Gillette cases, notice must be timely given to the Employer once the Employee is or should be aware of the injury or condition’s relatedness to the Employee’s work activities. Notice must be given to the employee’s employer when it becomes “reasonably apparent” to the employee an injury has resulted in, or is likely to cause, a compensable claim. See Anderson v. Frontier Communications, 819 N.W.2d 143, 72 W.C.D. 417 (Minn. 2012). Reasonably apparent often means that the employee either exhibited behavior suggesting they knew their condition could be a compensable work injury, or that the employee should have known based on their doctor’s connection of their work activities and condition.
If you have developed symptoms that you believe your work activities over time have caused, you should speak immediately with one of our attorneys at Schmidt Salita Law Team for a consultation to determine if your injury may be related, or how to go about properly providing notice and pursuing workers’ compensation benefits for your condition. Our workers’ compensation expert attorneys understand the nuances of cumulative trauma injuries and can be a resource for injured workers in Minnesota to avoid the landmines surrounding Gillette injuries.
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