A growing number of our law firm’s railroad worker clients are suffering from repetitive stress injuries, or RSIs. RSIs now account for more than 60 percent of all occupational illnesses, and RSIs afflict 1.8 million American workers each year. These types of injuries are caused by the repeated use of a body part to perform a task that strains or overextends that body part. It’s important to recognize, too, that a worker does not have to be doing the same thing all day every day in order to develop an RSI. Much railroad work does not appear to be repetitive, but cumulative wear a joint or muscle group can also constitute an RSI
The number of RSI cases being brought under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act is growing across the nation, and our firm has successfully handled many cases under FELA for many railroad employee clients. Contrary to popular belief, an employee’s job and age are not always a factor into whether a he or she develops RSI. The most common causes of RSIs are awkward posture or positioning, standing still for an extended time, poorly designed equipment, repetition of movement, vibrations, exposure to extreme temperatures, bending over and a lack of mandatory rotation of job duties. The article also laid out most common symptoms of an RSI injury:
- Trigger finger
- Ganglion cyst
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Epicondylitis (tennis elbow)
- Tenosynovitis (inflammation of the synovium, the lining covering the tendons)
- Hearing loss
- DeQuervain’s syndrome (tendonitis at the base of the thumb)
- Chronic back pain
- Cumulative trauma disorder.
Railroads know the modifications they should make to employees’ work tasks in order to prevent RSIs, but the companies often fail to implement the changes necessary to protect workers’ health. Worse, rail corporations too often fail to warn their employees about the potential health risks of their jobs, including RSIs. In circumstances where an employer carelessly and negligently fails to prevent an RSI, the company can be held liable.
While it can be harder to connect an employer’s negligence to an RSI than would showing liability for a single-incident, catastrophic injury, our team of experienced personal injury attorneys has successfully handled many FELA cases in the past. By looking at the right issues, we can show through expert testimony on workplace safety and ergonomics how and when a railroad should have maintained a safer work environment and was negligent in its duty of care for a worker.
It is necessary for employers to conduct an ergonomic analysis of their workplaces and make any necessary changes the analysis reveal. The problem is that many companies negligently and carelessly fail to make the necessary adjustments. Some companies attempt to remain ignorant by failing to conduct the necessary analysis at all. Both of these circumstances provide a basis for potential liability.
A basic example of ergonomic analysis can be seen in garden tools. Many of the tools are made with handles or grips that are far more comfortable. This basic example provides an idea for how ergonomics can be used to help reduce RSIs. Another method for reducing RSIs some employers carelessly and negligently fail to implement is changing a worker’s tasks. This is known as an “administrative change,” whereas changing a worker’s tools is known as an “engineering change.” If these types of changes are needed, an ergonomic analysis would reveal the need.
Any railroad worker should be mindful of the fact that RSIs claims against a railroad fall under FELA, which provides a 3-year statute of limitations from when the claim arises. In repetitive stress injury situations, careful legal analysis must be applied to determine when the 3-year statute of limitations begins to run — “accrues” in legal jargon. If you believe that you or a family member may have a repetitive stress injury, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible because the statute of limitations analysis usually requires legal advice and a careful analysis of not only the legal situation but a review of all applicable prior medical care for the injury involved. Please contact our law firm if you would like to have a free initial consultation. We handle these types of cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that our firm collects a legal fee only if we recover for you or your family member’s injury.
We cannot take every case but will gladly talk to you for free if you are a hurt railroad worker. In these wear-out cases, we usually are looking for an injury requiring surgery and which disqualifies the person from his or her former job.