Pursuing Workers’ Comp for Carpal Tunnel: How to Prove It’s Work-Related

Here’s how to seek workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome. See sample worker’s comp settlement amounts for carpal tunnel injuries.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder of the wrist. It’s a common work-related injury, particularly for office workers and employees whose jobs involve repetitive hand motions.

Like other repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel issues develop over time. It is often considered an occupational disease as the basis for workers’ compensation claims.¹

Proving your carpal tunnel injury is job-related means working with your doctor to eliminate non-work causes.

When on-the-job tasks result in carpal tunnel syndrome, you can file a workers’ comp claim with your employer’s insurer. Worker’s compensation payouts can range into tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the scope of the injury and any lingering disability.

Common Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The carpal tunnel is a small passageway in the wrist lined by several small bones. A ligament called the transverse carpal ligament arches over the bones and protects the median nerve.

The median nerve is one of the main nerves in the hand, extending down into the thumb, index and middle fingers, and half of the ring finger.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is triggered by pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

When the wrist, fingers, or hand is constantly used for repetitive motions such as twisting, abnormal bending, or persistent striking, the ligament can become inflamed and press against the median nerve.

Compression of the median nerve interferes with the use of your hand and wrist by causing pain and numbness in the hand and fingers.

Inflammation causes the pain in carpal tunnel syndrome. Repeated movement can cause inflammation, but so can underlying medical conditions.

Conditions contributing to inflammation might include:

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Arthritis

Occupations commonly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Computer/data entry workers
  • Factory assembly line workers
  • Professional drivers, including truck and bus drivers
  • Musicians
  • Craftsmen
  • Cashiers

Common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome outside of work:

  • Sewing
  • Crocheting
  • Tennis
  • Using hand tools
  • Playing the piano or other instruments

Filing a Carpal Tunnel Worker’s Comp Claim

Carpal tunnel is a legitimate on-the-job injury. Workers affected by it have a right to make a workers’ compensation claim.

Unlike many on-the-job injuries that happen suddenly, carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive injury and can take months, even years before you start having any symptoms.

Occupational diseases and conditions, like carpal tunnel, develop as a direct result of an activity that is part of your required daily work.

Report the Injury to Your Employer

If you experience pain or other symptoms and want to seek medical care, you must notify your employer as soon as possible.

The workers’ compensation process begins when you first report the injury to your employer. With carpal tunnel syndrome, you need to give an approximate date when you first started noticing your symptoms.

Once you’ve reported your injury, your employer or workers’ comp representative will give you the forms and instructions to file your claim.

Notifying your employer is not enough. You also have to file your workers’ compensation claim.

Watch out for filing deadlines. You can lose all rights to compensation if you miss the reporting or filing deadline for your state.

Find your local State Workers’ Compensation Office for more information about your state’s rules and deadlines.

You may be given a list of company-approved physicians who will evaluate and treat your injury. If you aren’t satisfied with the treatment you’re getting from the workers’ comp doctor, you may be able to change doctors after a certain period.

Check your state’s rules to determine when you can see a carpal tunnel specialist who isn’t on the insurance company’s list.

Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Tell the doctor when you first started noticing symptoms, what you’re doing when the symptoms occur, and how it affects your ability to complete tasks on and off the job.

Carpal tunnel syndrome often occurs in both hands, although one side may be worse than the other.

Common symptoms include acute or chronic pain, tingling, numbness, burning, or prickling sensations. Affected workers may have difficulty gripping, holding tools, using a computer mouse, typing, or other similar tasks.

Do you play the organ at church? Knit sweaters? Build birdhouses? Perform other repetitive tasks outside of work?

Beat the insurance company to the punch. They’ll be looking for an excuse to say your injury happened outside of work or was caused by a pre-existing condition.

Tell your doctor about non-work activities that may contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, and ask the doctor if work was the primary cause of your problem, as opposed to those outside activities.

Your doctor will examine you and may order imaging studies, like X-rays, to see what’s going on with the bones.

An electromyogram or nerve conduction study is a diagnostic tool frequently used to identify carpal tunnel syndrome. It measures the response time of muscles from a series of quick electrical pulses given to the nerve. This painless test may take 15 minutes to an hour.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome includes wearing a hand splint to prevent the wrist from twisting and bending, drug therapy to reduce inflammation (ibuprofen or naproxen) and reduce swelling (corticosteroids), and in the most serious cases, surgery to release the entrapped nerve.

Workers’ Comp Carpal Tunnel Settlements

Workers’ compensation benefits include the cost of medical treatment. Carpal tunnel release costs can get up to $7,000 per hand, including hospital facility fees and doctor fees.

Even without surgery, treatments costs can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars for various combinations of doctor visits, x-rays, nerve-conduction studies, braces, cortisone injections, and physical therapy.

Workers’ comp wage replacement benefits are are roughly two-thirds of the injured workers’ average pre-injury wage. Worker’s comp disability benefits may include a lump-sum wage replacement payout and vocational training to help return the injured worker to gainful employment.

Depending on your job requirements, the severity of your injury, and the extent of your treatment, you could be off work for a few weeks, up to several months.

If your carpal tunnel is diagnosed as a temporary total disability, you may be able to resume your former job duties, but only after additional time for healing. In the meantime, your physician may clear you to work at another job that accommodates your disability.

Example: Office Worker Treated for Carpal Tunnel

Katy worked for more than ten years as a typist at a mortgage company, eventually making $15 per hour/$600 per week. Over time, she began to experience pain and tingling in her left wrist and hand.

Katy went to an orthopedic hand specialist who examined her painful wrist and hand and had an in-office X-ray taken. The doctor diagnosed Katy with a mild carpal tunnel syndrome. She was treated with six weeks of rest, two cortisone shots, and advised to wear a brace at night to prevent a recurrence.

After three weeks, Katy was able to return to work at full pay at the receptionist’s desk, greeting clients and answering the phone. She worked as a receptionist until she was medically cleared to return to her typing duties.

Medical bills : $1,000

Lost wages benefit ($400/week x 3 weeks): $1,200

Estimated Workers’ Comp Settlement Value: $2,200

Katy was back to work in less time than it would take to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. Katy was happy to get her wage benefits while she was off work and to have her medical bills paid by workers’ comp. 

At some point during treatment, your physician may determine you’ve reached a level of maximum medical improvement (MMI). This is when further treatment will not improve your condition. The doctor will assign an impairment rating to represent the percentage of use lost from the carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you and your attorney think a settlement is in your best interest, you can ask for a scheduled settlement award for the wage replacement portion of your workers’ compensation claim.

Federal and many state workers’ comp plans use a loss-of-use schedule of injuries to calculate permanent disability settlements. The schedule allocates a specific number of wage benefit weeks for each body part or function. Settlement for injuries not listed on the schedule can be negotiated by your attorney.

Example: Partial Disability from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Brian was an assembly-line worker for more than 15 years. At the time Brian was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome he was making $20 per hour/$800 per week.

Brian had carpal tunnel release surgery on both hands, costing more than $14,000. Two months after the surgeries, Brian had recovered the use of his left hand, but was left with constant pain and limited ability to use his right hand.

Brian’s doctor said he had reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) in his dominant hand. The doctor assigned a 50% impairment rating to Brian’s right hand.

The workers’ compensation system in Brian’s state allocates a maximum scheduled loss award of 244 weeks for a hand injury.

Brian’s weekly wage benefit is $533 (66.67% x $800)

His 50% impairment rating means he gets 122 weeks’ worth of weekly benefits (50% of 244 weeks for a hand injury).

$533 x 122 = $65,026 partial permanent disability wage settlement. 

Brian received standard workers’ comp benefits up until he was ready to settle his workers’ compensation case. 

Brian did not waive his right to workers’ comp medical benefits as part of the settlement. Workers’ comp will cover his medical expenses for pain management medications and treatment so long as Brian receives medically necessary care for his injuries. 

Fighting the Worker’s Comp Insurance Company

Carpal tunnel claims can get expensive for workers’ compensation insurance companies. Treatment and recovery can take months, and some workers are never able to return to work. To make matters worse, some states’ workers’ compensation laws don’t require repetitive motion injuries to be covered by workers’ comp.

The insurance company will challenge your claim for job-related carpal tunnel syndrome, arguing that your condition was caused by pre-existing medical conditions or activities you do outside of work. Or the insurance company may accept your claim, but then dispute your disability level.

Either way, the insurance company will look for reasons to deny your claim or limit your benefits.  The burden will be on you to prove your injury was caused by your job and is limiting your ability to work.

You may be sent to a hand-picked workers’ compensation doctor for an Independent Medical Exam (IME). The IME doctor is not there to help you or treat your injury. IME doctors work for the insurance company, and understand what the insurance company wants to hear.

You don’t have to face the insurance company’s big guns by yourself. You have too much to lose by moving forward without good legal advice.

Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation to injured workers. It costs nothing to find out what an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can do for you.

Workers' Comp and Carpal Tunnel Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>