"My wrist hurts," the railroader complains.
More often than not, the railroad's typical response is: "Deal with it!"
With 15 years on the railroad, and 11 years working as an investigator on railroad injury cases, I know all too well that "dealing with" repetitive stress injuries by trying to work through the pain is a bad idea. In fact, one of the most common questions we field from railroad workers calling our office or at railroad union meetings is about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
But because the work injury is progressive -- if its not treated early, a treatable condition can turn into a debilitating and career ending situation -- the sooner medical treatment is sought the better. Dealing with the pain will only make matters worse.
The following article provides an overview of repetitive stress injuries, including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. "Ergonomic Checklist for Industrial Work and for Computer Work". If you have any questions, please feel free to give Hoey & Farina a call at 1-888-425-1212.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome & The FELA
Repetitive stress injuries, such as Carpal tunnel syndrome, are compensable under the FELA - Federal Employers' Liability Act, the federal law governing injured railroad workers. However, in order to recover, railroaders must prove that the railroad in some way negligently caused the workplace condition that contributed to the Carpal Tunnel condition. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome also can be caused by specific instance of injury. Furthermore, in a specific instance of trauma, such as a wrist injury resulting from a fall, it is easier to establish negligence on the part of the railroad. Specifically, in the fall down situation, uneven or improper ballast could be the unsafe condition and the basis of the railroad's negligence.
What is Carpal Tunnel?
In general, anyone who works in a repetitive motion intensive work environment is in danger of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The condition is a common problem that affects the hand and wrist. Construction workers, assembly line workers and office personnel -- anyone who repetitively flex their wrists and hands -- are often afflicted. Some common symptoms of Carpal Tunnel range from a tingling sensation in the hand all the way to a gradual decrease of feelings in the fingers. In the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, a simple brace will sometimes decrease the symptoms, especially the numbness and pain occurring at night. Surgery to correct the condition frequently will relieve most -- if not all – of the pain associated with the condition. However, if not treated, the condition can turn a treatable condition into a debilitating and career threatening situation.
Got Symptoms? See Your Doctor
If any symptoms of Carpal tunnel syndrome occur, a doctor should be immediately consulted. Because railroaders are NOT covered by workers' compensation, but come under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), railroaders must prove the railroad was in some way negligent in causing the workplace condition that caused the condition.
Because Carpal tunnel syndrome develops gradually, and is not the result of a sudden mishap, the ability to point to a specific negligent workplace condition is sometimes difficult to pinpoint. Furthermore, due to the gradual onset of the condition, railroaders themselves are often confused as to when, or if, they should report their condition to the railroad.
The best way to protect your rights under the FELA is to give notice to the railroad if you are aware that you may have a work-related repetitive stress injury, or immediately after you have been diagnosed by a doctor with Carpal tunnel syndrome.
As always, it is a good idea to keep a record of your medical history. Record any days off work and the dates and doctors where you sought medical attention.
The onset of symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or its diagnosis can be confusing and be disturbing to the injured railroader. Railroads often contribute to this confusion by dismissing symptoms as tendonitis or due to old age, and sending the injured railroader back to work. The railroad claims department often denies Carpal Tunnel Syndrome claims. In many reported situations, the claims agent will try to obtain a statement from the railroader where the railroader states for the record that his work injury is a result of the general duties of his occupation. This eliminates the much easier to prove specific incident onset and also might bar the claim entirely as a result of the statute of limitations.
However, what is important to remember if you feel that you are suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or any other type of work related repetitive stress injury, is to speak with a doctor. If the doctor diagnoses Carpal Tunnel, the next step is to seek advice from railroad union approved FELA Designated Legal Council.
The bottom line is that the FELA states that you must notify the railroad when you know, or when you should have known, of the repetitive stress condition. As a fellow railroader who at times felt symptoms myself of carpal tunnel, I know first hand about the tendency to work through the pain. However, I urge you to think about the potential risks to yourself and your family. Please call our firm immediately if you think you may a repetitive stress injury. We are here to protect your rights as a railroader.