The Work Injury Report - Volume II

Do you know what Stress can do to you? & RGW Results in Stress-Related Cases

Do You Know What Work Stress Can Do to You?

What do the following things have in common?

·       Poor Sleep Pattern ·       Stroke ·       High Blood Pressure ·       Headaches ·       Stomachaches ·       Forgetfulness ·       Lung or Breathing Problems ·       Physical Pain ·       Acceleration of Heart Disease ·       Chronic Physical Fatigue ·       Development of Alcohol or Drug Addiction ·       Anger & Bitterness ·       Depression & Sadness ·       Breakdown of Immune System

The answer, while most people don’t realize it is piercing through them every work day of their life: stress and distress on the job.  Stress and distress on the job affect most people negatively in any number of ways, even though they do not realize it and even though they think they love their jobs.

Most people like you spend the majority of their waking hours either at work or thinking about work.  Ultimately, this can have a detrimental affect on your health, whether your realize it or not.  Anxiety may be the earliest symptom to detect, but consider that every aspect of your physical and emotional health is tied to the way you perceive situations and events.  That means that any illness, disease or syndrome can be caused, aggravated, contributed to or lit up by work stress.  In other words, your work really can make you sick, very sick.

Many experts believe that a high percentage of all disability claims may well be due in some part to work stress.  Stress, and its effects, can impact your ability to perform your job, your attitude towards your job, and the way in which you react to the daily events of your job, both at work and when you bring your problems home.  The consequences can be especially dramatic for those like police officer, firefighters, truck drivers, construction workers, and others in support services who are involved in at-risk occupations. 

Public safety and other protection personnel are particularly vulnerable.  Many of these individuals spend their days not knowing what’s lurking around the corner, dealing with belligerent people and coping with bureaucratic red tape, which could ultimately cost them their jobs.  As a result the underlying stress, day in and day out, can break down defense mechanisms, causing physical and emotional injury.

The daily drip-drip of physical and emotional stress in known in workers’ compensation language as “continuous trauma or repetitive trauma injury.” This means that situations or conditions on a repetitive basis over a period of time can cause or aggravate physical or emotional symptoms.  Those symptoms need not be emotional, and may be purely physical, such as high blood pressure, the onset of back pain, or a number of any physical ailments related to repetitive or overuse activities at work. 

In some situations, the stresses of the job, both physical and emotional, may have resulted in a medical condition which the affected worker does not or cannot recognize as an illness, or even a work-related injury.  Consulting a doctor, especially a doctor recommended by the employer (company or HMO doctor), may not related on-the-job stressors and distress to the conditions or symptoms which the worker has. In those instances, if you have fully aware of the complex nature of your job, it is helpful to describe to the doctor what you do at work and what the conditions of your workplace consist of on a daily basis. 

If your work conditions include such things as poor work conditions include such things as poor work environment, numerous deadlines, harassment by supervisors or the public job uncertainty, discrimination and unfair treatment, it is important that the doctor be informed and even more so that your realize that this is happening.  It is even more important to communicate this information when you are a long-term employee in higher risk occupations.  You may think you love your job while it is killing you.

On the other hand, not all stress is unhealthy, and some is even positive and productive in certain circumstances.  What then are the signs and symptoms of unhealthy work stress?  Every individual is different hence the word “individual.” And because we are different, signs of stress vary.  Some people are able to withstand the same conditions as others without suffering any detrimental effects. This is true due to different personality traits, past experiences and physical makeup.  For many people however, common early signs of stress include:

  •  Irritability
  •  Fatigue
  •  Overreactions
  •  Sleeplessness
  •  General Disinterest & Sadness
  •  Unexplained Aches & Pains
  •  High Blood Pressure 
  •  Frustration
  •  Increased Alcohol Consumption
  •  Feelings of Worthlessness 

    What can you do to manage work stress? While stress can’t be entirely avoided, there are things we can do to deal with it effectively. 

  •          Identify work stressors and always be aware of how they tend to affect you.
  •               Make changes. Your health is more important than any aspect of your job.
  •              Speak to your manager or supervisor to make him or her aware of any problems or situation that may require change.
  •         Focus on your job duties, not on the personalities around you.
  •         When you feel the pressure, take time to breathe and relax.
  •              Maintain a positive outlook regardless of how bleak the situation may appear.
  •              Exercise regularly. 
  •         Reaffirm your priorities in life. Don’t let work consume you. 
  •        When symptoms develop, get a physical checkup and discuss your work with the doctor or company employer assistance representative. 

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RESULTS IN STRESS-RELATED CASES

The Law Firm of Rowen, Gurvey & Win has handled a great number of stress-related workers’ compensation claims. It has been very successful in settling these claims and winning large awards in cases that could not settle.  Many of the claims have both physical and emotional aspects to them.  Here are some examples of results obtained by the firm in stress-related cases. 

In one case, a deputy sheriff sustained both physical and emotional injuries as a result of his employment with the County of Los Angeles.  The Law Firm of Rowen, Gurvey & Win submitted evidence to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board showing that all of the claimant’s medical problems were the result of his work as a deputy sheriff.  One of the doctors in the case stated that due to the applicant’s condition, any future work would need to be restricted to an “avoidance of emotional stress.”  The judge ordered an award of 100 percent total disability and lifetime medical care.  In her Opinion, the judge wrote:  “Based upon applicant’s testimony and a review of the entire medical record, which are found to be better reasoned and more persuasive, it is found that the applicant sustained injury to his nervous system, psyche, gastrointestinal system, back, neck, veins, legs, head, hypertension and cardiovascular system arising out of and occurring in the course of employment…”  The judge wrote that the factors of permanent disability “are based upon the applicant’s testimony with due consideration to his credibility and demeanor as a witness…”

In another case, an LAPD police officer was awarded 69 percent disability for stress-related injuries sustained on the job.  The injuries were to the officer’s nerves, psyche and gastrointestinal system, and the symptoms included headaches. Two separate claims resulted in 13½ percent disability for injuries relating to the neck and headaches and 15 percent for injuries relating to the nose, sinus and headaches.  The police officer was awarded more than $75,000.00, plus future medical care.  In this case, the trial judge’s decision was appealed and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board issued an Opinion and Decision after Reconsideration, stating that the two separate Findings and Awards issues in these cases were correct and affirmed.

While some cases end up going to trial, the majority of cases relating to stress on the job are settled prior to trial.  In one case that settled for $100,000.00, a restaurant manager was diagnosed with vascular disease, a heart condition, headaches and injuries to the nerves, psyche and to the heart.  In addition, the injured worker suffered anxiety and was run-down.  The Agreed Medical Examiner concluded that his medical problems were partly occupationally-related and therefore he was entitled to compensation. 

A truck driver who suffered a debilitating back injury from a work related vehicle accident was involved in another case which settled out-of-court.  He subsequently became depressed and despondent due to his physical injury, and frustrated and fearful of the risks associated with his occupation as a truck driver.  This settlement was for $107,500.00. 

Another claim involved a computer manager who worked under conditions of severe emotional stress and tension throughout his employment, which aggravated and accelerated his hypertension, heart disease, insulin dependent diabetes and chronic fatigue.  A company doctor wrote that “the patient has increasingly focused on the progression of his medical problems, which have resulted in increased anxiety and depression, which have led to increased progression of his medical problems and so on in a vicious cycle.”  The Law Firm of Rowen, Gurvey & Win settled this case for $180,000.00, even though the employer never admitted liability.  The applicant has obtained Social Security Disability as well, and will be able to secure collateral health benefits.

For those applicants who are able to continue to work, the Firm has stipulated to variable permanent disability ratings and lifetime medical care to include multi-disciplinary aspects of physical and emotional treatment. 

For many people suffering from various conditions, as a result of work-related stress, there is an independent opportunity to obtain Social Security disability benefits, disability retirement benefits, pensions and long-term  disability insurance benefits.  The Law Firm of Rowen, Gurvey & Win works closely with other attorneys who specialize in these areas to ensure that all of their client needs are met.  Many times were refer client to these attorneys to assist them in securing these benefits.

Making a false or fraudulent worker’s compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in prison or fines of up to $150,000.00 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.