Minnesota workers’ compensation: Gillette repetitive stress injuries

Workers' compensation and repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, "overexertion and repetitive motion injuries and illnesses" cause about one-third of nonfatal work-related harm resulting in missed work days. When repetitive stress injury is mentioned, people often think of carpal tunnel syndrome with forearm pain caused by office jobs involving keyboard use or typing, but there are many other such disorders related to work activity and they can happen in other areas of the body.

Repetitive motion injuries

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides an informative overview of such injuries, which go by many names: repetitive stress injuries, repetitive motion injuries, overuse syndrome, cumulative trauma disorder and more. Basically, cumulative trauma disorders are muscular problems caused when work duties involve repetitive motions over extended periods of time, sometimes from awkward positions or using unusual motions.

Cumulative-trauma conditions

In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome, in which a pinched nerve in the wrist causes numbness, pain and tingling, repetitive motion disorders include:

  • Bursitis: inflammation of fluid pads near joints
  • Tendonitis: inflammation of tendons
  • Ganglion cyst: noncancerous lumps on joints or tendons of wrists, hands, ankles or feet
  • Trigger finger or thumb: finger stuck in bent position
  • Epicondylitis: damage to a bone projection where two bones connect involving ligaments and tendons
  • And more

Minnesota workers' compensation

In Minnesota, work injuries and illnesses are covered by workers' compensation when they arise out of and in the course of employment. In the early years of workers' compensation programs, a covered injury tended to be one caused by one sudden, major accident, easily identifiable as connected to work activity.

As time went on, it became obvious that more subtle injuries that developed incrementally over time through work activity should also be covered by workers' comp.

The Gillette injury

A 1960 Minnesota Supreme Court case was pivotal in establishing that overuse injuries are properly covered by the state's workers' compensation program. In Gillette v. Harold, Inc., the court looked at an amendment in the state workers' comp law changing covered harm from that caused by "accident" to "personal injury."

In Gillette, the issue was whether a department-store salesperson who walked or stood on almost a full-time basis, which slowly irritated a previous foot injury, had a valid workers' comp claim. After considering evolving workers' comp law and policy in other states, the Supreme Court firmly established that a covered, disabling personal injury "is not limited to a single definite act but may extend over a continuous period of time."

Seek legal counsel

As a result, repetitive stress injuries when considered in the Minnesota workers' compensation context are called "Gillette injuries." However, because of the incremental, subtle nature of such injuries, proof of the connection between work activity and injury may be challenging, so it is in the best interest of an injured worker to enlist an experienced workers' comp attorney to assist in developing the evidence and presenting the case.

Keywords: Minnesota, workers' compensation, Gillette, repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive motion injuries, overuse injury, case, Minnesota Supreme Court