A very sweet woman called me looking for help. She had just had neck surgery as a result of a herniated disc. She wanted to know if she could file a workers’ compensation claim. She had asked her surgeon if her injury was work related and he told her, “no because under Illinois law you have to have an accident and that didn’t happen to you.”
We try not to give medical advice and certainly wish doctors wouldn’t give legal advice because often, like in this situation, they are wrong. He was apparently repeating information that was true in some state that he used to work in.
Problem is that what he said is not true at all in Illinois. When you perform the same tasks over and over at work and sustain an injury, that’s called repetitive trauma. With this woman, she was working on her feet about ten hours a day and doing a lot of lifting, much of it over head.
The mistake that she made (which also included not reporting any of the problems she was having to her employer) is that she didn’t know what to ask her doctor or how to do it.
If you are hit by a car and break your leg, it’s pretty obvious what caused the problem. Your doctor can clearly and easily state that in their paperwork.
On the other hand, if you are making a repetitive trauma claim, it’s important (like really, really important) to educate your doctor on all of your daily activities with your job, especially as relates to your injury. For example, here are two job descriptions:
1. I work as a manager at a factory.
2. I work as a manager at a factory. I wear steel toed boots and I’m on my feet all day. One day I wore a pedometer and I learned that I walked 7.3 miles that day in an eight hour shift. I work six days a week for eight hours and most days I’m doing the same thing. On average I’m helping lift boxes which weigh between 20 and 80 pounds for two hours of my day. Of that two hours, 30 minutes of that time is spent with my arms lifting over my head as we load or unload materials in to a truck. So while I’m a manager, I’m doing the same work as everyone else, just also supervising. I began to notice pain in my knee about a month ago and it seemed worse toward the end of the day and hasn’t gotten better.
Clearly the second example paints a much clearer picture. Some people either get intimidated by doctors or just don’t know how to tell their story or what to say. This of course is one way in which an experienced attorney can help a client and often we’ll make the call to the doctor’s office to ask them their opinion. Other times we’ll go over your job with you to make sure that you are giving them the whole story.
It’s fine if they don’t believe your job caused your problem. We just want their honest opinion. But it’s not fine if their opinion is based on a lack of information.