What to Do After Hurting a Knee at Work: Getting Workers’ Compensation

Here’s what to expect from workers’ comp after a knee injury at work. We walk through example settlements from the insurance company.

Knees are second only to backs as the most commonly injured body part from workplace accidents resulting in days lost from work.¹

Workplace knee injuries can result from slip and falls, impacts with hard surfaces, repetitive motions, twisting or abnormal side to side movements, and unnatural turning or stopping.

The knee is a large joint, and because it’s also a load-bearing joint, knee injuries can have a long, painful recovery period.

A hurt knee can keep you off your feet and out of work for months, and some injured workers are never able to return to work. Here’s what you need to know.

What to Do After a Knee Injury at Work

1. Get Medical Attention

Seek immediate medical attention for acute knee injuries at work. Don’t try to be tough. Knee injuries can lead to crippling joint problems later in life. Go to the emergency room or urgent care. Tell the medical provider you were injured at work, and how it happened.

Don’t make excuses like “old age” for your injury. You can qualify for workers’ comp even when your injury is an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

2. Notify Your Employer

Notify your employer of the injury as soon as reasonably possible. Ask for their workers’ comp insurance claim forms and instructions for filing your injury claim. File the completed workers’ compensation claim forms with the appropriate office.

3. File Your Workers’ Comp Claim

On-the-job knee injuries are eligible for coverage by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp benefits cover medical and therapy bills, and approximately two-thirds of your lost wages while you’re unable to work.

Medical Treatment for Knee Injuries

Aside from emergency care for a sudden injury, you will be seen and treated by a doctor approved by the workers’ comp insurance company.

The primary physician evaluates your medical condition and the type of injury you sustained. After an initial diagnosis, the doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon, for injury-specific treatment.

Most workplace knee injuries are strains or sprains to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. More serious injuries can include torn cartilage and fractures. In severe cases of torn ligaments or fractures, surgery may be necessary, but it should always be a last resort.

Non-surgical treatments include:

      • Resting, and keeping weight off the knee
      • Elevating the area of the injury to reduce swelling
      • Alternating ice and heat to reduce bruising and pain
      • Compression dressings to restrict unnecessary movement
      • Whirlpool treatment
      • Medications to reduce pain and inflammation

No one likes to be injured, and most people want to get back to work as soon as possible. Surviving on partial wages can be stressful. Don’t rush it. Returning to work before you’re ready can delay your recovery.

Follow your doctor’s instructions for treatment and physical therapy. Failing to follow your doctors’ orders or missing therapy appointments can give the insurance company an excuse to cut your benefits.

Getting Back to Work

If your doctor releases you to work with limitations, like seated-only tasks, you’ll be able to go back to work if your employer has a job that’s compatible with your restrictions. If not, you may have to wait until you fully recover to resume working.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee your old position will still be available when you’re ready to go back to work. In most cases, employers are not required to keep an injured worker’s position open until the worker recovers.

If your knee injury is diagnosed as a permanent partial disability, you may be able to return to work in a limited capacity.

Your employer may assign you to a position that accommodates your disability. When that’s not possible, you may have to look for employment somewhere else.

Example Workers’ Comp Settlements for Knee Injuries

Minor Knee Injury Settlements

You won’t need legal advice to apply for worker’s compensation benefits for a simple sprained or bruised knee. You’ll have a few medical bills that will be covered, and workers’ comp will pay wage replacement benefits for a few weeks.

Example: Bruised Knee from Trip and Fall at Work

Darlene works at a children’s daycare center, earning $10 per hour/$400 per week. One morning, Darlene turned to greet a parent, but as she started to walk to the door, she tripped over a toy and fell hard, landing on her left knee.

Within minutes, Darlene’s painful knee became swollen and discolored. Her supervisor brought an ice pack, then took the limping Darlene to a nearby Urgent Care Center.

X-rays did not show any fractures. The doctor instructed Darlene to stay off her left leg for at least a week, then come back for a recheck. She was to keep her leg elevated, take ibuprofen for pain, and ice her knee for twenty minutes at a time.

If she did not see significant improvement in a week, the doctor would refer her to an orthopedic doctor to evaluate for tendon or ligament damage.

Darlene was sent home with crutches. By the end of the week, she felt much better, although her knee was still tender when she put weight on it.

Because her job required Darlene to carry children, kneel, and get up and down from the floor, the doctor kept her out of work for another two weeks to ensure her knee was well healed.

Darlene fully recovered from her knee injury.

Medical bills: $500

Lost wages benefit ($267/week x 3 weeks): $801

Estimated Workers’ Comp Settlement Value: $1,301

Darlene was fully recovered and back to work in less time than it would take to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. 

Worker’s compensation settlements for knee injuries will vary, depending on the severity of your injury, treatment costs, and resulting impairment level.

Serious Knee Injury Settlements

The medical costs for serious knee injuries can be staggering. The cost for arthroscopic knee surgery can range from $5,700 to more than $23,000, depending on your location and where you have the procedure done.

In a worst-case scenario, the cost for total knee replacement ranges from $45,000 to $70,000, with an average cost of $57,000.

Severe knee injuries can have a significantly different outcome, requiring extensive treatment, possible knee replacement surgery, and a long, painful recovery. Many injured workers never fully recover from these types of injuries and are fully or partially disabled for life.

Workers’ compensation laws in most states have a specific loss rating schedule to calculate lump-sum settlements. Insurance companies use the schedule to determine the wage replacement payout for workers who lost the use of a body part, like a knee, as a result of their workplace injury.

In many states, this amount is calculated using the maximum scheduled loss allocation, the impairment rating, and your weekly wage benefit.

Each state has its own rules and schedules. You can get your state’s loss schedule from your State Workers’ Compensation Office.

Example: Scheduled Loss Award for Workplace Knee Injury

Jack’s days as a commercial construction supervisor ended when he was hit by a front-end loader on a jobsite. The loader bucket caught him from the side, shattering his right knee and knocking him to the ground.

Despite knee replacement surgery, Jack’s knee failed to heal correctly, leaving him dependent on a walker to get around. His doctor determined that Jack is permanently disabled, with an 80% impairment rating.

Jack’s weekly workers’ compensation wage benefit is $900.

In the state where Jack worked, the loss on a knee/leg qualifies for a maximum of 288 weeks of wage benefits.

80% of 288 weeks = 230

230 x $900 = $207,000

Jack is entitled to a lump sum of $207,000 for his workplace knee injury. 

The specific loss payment is only a settlement of wage benefits. Jack can continue to receive medical care coverage going forward. Workers’ comp won’t pay an injured worker for pain and suffering

Work injuries that result in permanent disability are high-dollar claims. Disabled workers can be eligible for lifetime wage replacement benefits, often paid in a lump-sum settlement, in addition to medical treatment coverage.

You will need an experienced attorney to get full compensation for a permanent disability claim.

Occupational Risk for Knee Injuries

Jobs that require a lot of kneeling, squatting, standing, and heavy lifting are stressful to the knees.

You can suffer a work-related injury to the knee in any job. However, some occupations are more at risk than others. Occupational risk is higher for:

      • Carpenters
      • Bricklayers
      • Floor installers
      • Construction workers
      • Housekeepers

Common Types of Workplace Knee Injuries

Acute (sudden) knee injuries are often caused by blunt-force trauma or excessive strain on the joint. Overuse injuries happen over time from the repetitive stress of bending and extending the knee.

Common acute knee injuries:

      • Ligament strains and tears
      • Meniscus strains and tears
      • Bruises and contusions
      • Kneecap dislocations or fractures

Acute knee injuries can happen from an on-the-job car accident, trip and fall, falling machinery or materials, and any other sudden workplace accident.

Overuse injuries to the knee include:

Knee injuries from overuse happen over time, as the knee becomes worn or chronically irritated. You may have a harder time proving your knee problems are work-related, rather than an age-related condition.

Serious Injuries Require an Attorney

If you’ve suffered a serious knee or another injury on the job, you’ll need an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to get the full amount of compensation you’re entitled to receive.

There’s too much at stake to trust the insurance company to do right by you. Most workers’ compensation lawyers offer a free consultation. It will cost you nothing to discuss your claim with an experienced attorney.

Knee Injury at Work Questions & Answers

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 >>