It’s hard to envision going through a day at work and not being able to use your knees. Almost every activity we engage in on the job requires your knee — walking, kneeling, sitting, crouching, standing, lifting, even crawling — some jobs require being able to move in very tight spaces on your knees. As we age, all these activities take their toll on our knees, and it’s not uncommon for many people to develop arthritis or pains in the knees.
Suffering a knee injury at work, however, can exacerbate any natural deterioration in your knee. Depending on the type of knee injury you suffer, you may be sidelined and unable to work for a few weeks or as long as several months. Some knee injuries are so severe that you will never be able to return the level of activity that you engaged in on your job before you were hurt.
Regardless of the kind of knee injury you suffer, if your knee injury happens as a result of the work that you do at your job, you may be eligible to receive Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation benefits. Even if you already have some arthritis in your knee, if a workplace injury makes your condition worse, you may still be eligible for benefits.
How the Knee Works
Your knee is the largest joint in your body. Since we use our legs so often for so many tasks, it receives the brunt of our daily routines. When we go for a walk, our knees absorb about 1.5 times our body weight, and that can triple if you are obese. When you go for a run, your knee absorbs five times your body weight. Your knee joint is composed of bone and ligaments that enable you to stand, walk, run, jump, kneel and sit. So you can understand why it’s so important that we take as good care of them.
Parts of the Knee
A joint capsule surrounds the knee. This flexible capsule allows a wide range of movements but is still strong enough to hold the various components of the knee together. The capsule is lined with synovial tissue, which secretes a fluid that lubricates the knee.
Remember your knee is connected to the end of your thigh bone (femur) and your shinbone (tibia). Cartilage covers these the ends of these bones which helps reduce friction whenever you use your legs.
Between your thigh bone and your shinbone, you’ll find pads of cartilage called menisci. These pads cushion your knee joint and help distribute your body weight. Bursae, which are fluid-filled sacs, act as a cushion between parts of your knee such as the shinbone and your patellar tendon. That’s the tendon that attaches your shinbone to your kneecap.
Ligaments act to stabilize your knee. The four major ligaments are:
- Anterior cruciate ligament: Found in the middle of the knee, the ACL allows your tibia to have forward movement and rotation. A torn ACL injury is well-known to football fans.
- Posterior cruciate ligament: Also found in the middle of the knee, it allows backward movement of your tibia.
- Medial collateral ligament: It helps provide stability to your inner knee.
- Lateral collateral ligament: It helps provide stability to your outer knee.
Different Types of Knee Injuries
As you can see, there are many moving parts in your knee, which means there are many ways that your knees can get hurt. The cartilage that acts as a cushion and the ligaments that hold your knee together may wear down over time, which can lead to arthritis for many people.
But an accident at work that initiates, aggravates or worsens damage to the knee and results in lost wages and potentially large medical bills can be covered by workers’ compensation.
Some of these injuries include:
- Minor injuries: Swelling, sprains or bruising of your knee
- Kneecap injuries: Dislocating or breaking your kneecap
- Meniscus injuries: Depending on how bad the tear is, meniscus injury typically involves intense pain and can create instability in your knee. You often know if you have a torn meniscus if your knee feels like it just “gives out” one day while you are climbing stairs or even walking.
- Ligament injuries: Injuries to the ligaments mentioned above are often diagnosed as sprains but can frequently result in a more severe injury. Ligament injuries can sometimes sideline an injured worker for months and even require surgery.
- Chondromalacia: A condition that occurs when the cartilage under the kneecap (patella) is softened or damaged. If you are experiencing dull achy pains in the front of your knee, or pain when you kneel, squat or sit for a long period, you may have chondromalacia.
Common Ways to Injure Your Knee at Work
Since your knee is so important to so many the things that you do, the chances of suffering a knee injury are higher than many other parts of your body. The American Osteopathic Association reports that about two-thirds of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 have suffered from chronic knee pain or have helped care for someone who has suffered from chronic knee pain over the past year.
You may be particularly likely to have knee pain if your job requires a lot of lifting, walking or standing the entire day, bending up and down or if you work in poorly designed and workspaces where you could easily bang your knee, slip or fall. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workplace knee injuries are responsible for 15 percent to 20 percent of injuries that result in lost work time. Workers who injure their knees spend an average of 16 days away from work.
The jobs where knee injuries can occur more frequently include:
- Factory workers
- Delivery drivers
- Construction workers
- Waiters and waitresses
- Trailer truck drivers
- Auto mechanics
- Professional athletes
Some of the most common ways that you can injure your knee on the job include:
- Slips and falls
- Accidents on a construction site
- Falling from a ladder or other high place
- Being struck by moving objects
- Car accidents suffered while on the job
- Either standing or walking during the entire workday
- Standing from an awkward position
- Lifting something too heavy
What to Do If You Injure Your Knee at Work
If you suffer a work-related injury, whether you are in the workplace or performing a job-related task outside the main worksite, you should report it to your employer as soon as possible. Notify the correct person, like your direct supervisor or a nurse who works your facility. Telling a co-worker or a friend on the job that you hurt yourself does not qualify as notifying your employer. You should notify your employer with 21 days of your injury, but if you are unable to tell your employer immediately that you’ve been hurt, you have 120 days to notify them. The best way to do this is in writing.
If your injury is severe enough, you should seek medical attention immediately. Make sure any doctor or healthcare professional who treats you is aware that you were injured at work. The benefit of seeking medical attention as soon as possible is that this makes it harder for the employer’s insurance company to claim that your injury wasn’t all that bad and that you don’t need workers’ compensation.
In Pennsylvania, your employer may require that you see a physician from a “panel of doctors,” generally comprised of a list of six doctors that is posted at work, for the first 90 days of your treatment. However after this 90-day period has elapsed, you are free to see any physician you wish, including your regular doctor, as long as you notified your employer’s insurance company within five days of switching doctors.
Once you report your work-related injury to your employer, they will notify the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Board. Your employer and their insurance provider then have 21 days to decide whether to pay you compensation benefits or to deny your claim.
Workers’ Compensation in Pennsylvania
Workers’ comp was created in 1915 in Pennsylvania to protect the rights of both injured workers and employers. In the past, injured workers could sue their employers. While they did not always win these lawsuits, it could be quite expensive for their employers when they did.
All companies that employ at least one person in Pennsylvania are legally required to have workers’ compensation insurance. The workers’ compensation system in Pennsylvania is a no-fault system. If a worker is injured at work, it does not matter who is responsible for the injury — the worker can apply for workers’ comp. Even if the accident was the worker’s fault, they are still eligible for benefits. In return, however, they give up their right to sue their employer.
If medical evidence shows that your work-related knee injury is either partially or totally disabling, you are eligible to receive benefits for your lost wages and any medical expenses you may incur. The amount of your benefits is calculated by taking two-thirds of your average weekly wage over the past 52 weeks. There are limits, however. In 2018, the most an injured worker could collect was $1,025 per week. In 2019, that level rises to $1,220.
1. Total Disability
When a doctor determines that you have suffered a total disability from a work-related accident, you will continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits during the extent of the disability, even if that is the rest of your lifetime. After 104 weeks, however, the insurance company can ask you to take an Independent Rating Exam (IRE). In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that IREs were unconstitutional. But in October of 2018, the Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 111 which reinstates the IRE. The Act was signed into law by the governor in November 2018. Under the new law, after an IRE, you must meet a threshold of still being more than 35 percent disabled to continue receiving lifetime benefits. If you are less than 35 percent disabled, you will be moved to partial disability. You can only receive partial disability benefits for 500 weeks or nine and a half years.
2. Partial Disability
If you have a partial disability, you may be able to return to your job with some medical restrictions or do a job with lighter duties. If this new job pays less than your previous job, you can receive two-thirds of the difference between what you previously earned and what you are earning in the new light-duty position.
3. Specific Loss Award
Specific loss awards are given when an injury results in the loss of a body part or disfigures a worker. You are eligible to receive benefits for a certain number of weeks depending on which part of your body is “lost” or disfigured. For instance, if you lose the ability to use your lower leg, you will receive compensation of two-thirds of your average weekly wage for 350 weeks. You will receive these benefits whether you are working or not working.
Remember, if you suffer a knee injury at work, your first step is to notify your employer of a work-related injury. If after 21 days your employer and their insurance company accept liability for injury, they will issue an Agreement of Compensation. If they refuse to accept liability for your injury, they will send you a Notice of Workers’ Compensation Denial.
- If your initial claim is denied, your next step is to file a Claim Petition. You have three years from the date of your injury to file a claim petition. A workers’ compensation judge is then appointed to your case and will notify you and your employer’s insurance company of the time and the date of the hearing.
- If a claim is denied or dismissed by the Workers’ Compensation Judge, you have 20 days to file an appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.
- If that claim is denied, your next step is to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court within 30 days of the Appeal Board’s decision. If that decision is not in your favor, you have another 30 days to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This process may last anywhere from three months to two years depending on the number of appeals and the dates of the hearings. You can settle with your employer’s insurance company at any time.
- An employer cannot fire you for filing a workers’ comp claim petition. This does not mean they cannot dismiss you for other reasons such as poor job performance, planned layoffs or if they say they cannot find the right kind of job for your medical restrictions. If you have been fired or laid off, and you believe your employer is not telling you the truth about the reason why, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney immediately.
Settling Your Knee Injury Case
An injured worker might decide to seek a settlement with the employer’s insurance company for many reasons. Before you do so, however, it’s important you talk to your lawyer about what effects a settlement may have on future medical payments, tax implications — workers’ compensation benefits are tax-free, but there may be tax implications if you are also receiving Social Security benefits — and whether the settlement will provide enough money for you and your family.
Here are a few reasons for seeking a knee injury settlement:
- You may have found the entire workers’ compensation claim process tiring and annoying, and you want closure.
- You found other employment.
- There’s been a lot of back-and-forth over disputed issues that have prevented you from receiving the benefits to which you are eligible.
- You need funds to pay for medical bills and other expenses.
In many cases, injured workers will wait until they have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) to settle. This is the point where your doctor has determined your injury is not likely to heal or improve any further. At this point, injured workers will know if they will need permanent restrictions for a longer period, and they will have a better idea of what future medical costs may be.
Reasons against accepting a settlement offer include:
- The insurance company has made an inadequate and insufficient settlement offer
- You return to your old job on light duty, and you’re enjoying this new position, but the insurance company offers you a settlement that says you need to resign before they pay you any funds
- You are unsure of future medical costs, especially if you may need to have surgery or knee replacement in the future, and you have no other form of medical insurance to pay for these procedures.
Benefits of Working With a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
If you have suffered a work-related knee injury, and you decided that you are open to the idea of a settlement with the insurance company, you should immediately seek the services of an experienced workers’ comp lawyer.
Negotiating settlements can be a complex process. Insurance companies will try every trick in the book to avoid paying you the benefits to which you are legally entitled. It can be hard to do battle with them if you have not recovered from your knee injury or you are unable to travel to gather the necessary documents. Experienced workers’ compensation lawyers know the tricks that insurance companies try to play on injured workers. They can help you gather the required documentation and evidence to improve the likelihood of a fair and reasonable settlement. They can also make sure that all the paperwork is filed on time.
In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation lawyers work on contingency. That means they don’t get paid unless you get paid. And in Pennsylvania, there are limits on fees that a lawyer can charge for workers’ compensation cases — only up to 20 percent of the awarded amount. All fee arrangements between an attorney and a client need to be approved by a Workers’ Compensation Judge or by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.
Workers’ Comp Knee Injury Case Study
An employee from Harrisburg, Pa., working as a courier for FedEx, sustained a work injury described as a left knee meniscus tear in December 2012, which the insurance carrier, Sedgwick CMS, accepted.
In late 2014, the insurance carrier had the injured worker attend an independent medical examination, and the IME physician reported that the employee’s diagnoses were left knee and swelling status post-work-related injury secondary to lateral meniscal tear and exacerbation and left knee operative arthroscopy with partial lateral meniscectomy. The IME physician also reported that the injured worker required restrictions secondary to her pre-existing osteoarthritis and was not related to the work injury. The insurance carrier then filed a Termination Petition alleging that the injured worker was fully recovered from her injury.
While the case was actively being litigated, the claim ultimately settled for $115,000 via a compromise and release. Including the settlement, the injured worker received $190,404.35 in wage loss benefits and $24,399.44 in medical benefits for her work injury. If you have been injured in a work-related accident, you may be entitled to Pennsylvania workers’ comp benefits.
Let the Experienced Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Calhoon and Kaminsky P.C., Help You With Your Injured Knee Claim
We offer a free evaluation of your case. And if you are unable to travel, we will come to you to discuss your workers’ compensation claim. Our goal is to help each and every one of our clients receive the workers’ comp benefits to which they are legally entitled. It’s about making sure that injured Pennsylvania workers are treated fairly.
We offer a free guide that explains a great deal about the workers’ compensation system in Pennsylvania. You can call us anytime at (717) 695-4722 or contact us online to tell us a little bit about your case. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.