Almost all of us have gotten up in the morning after having slept with our heads in an awkward position. The resulting neck pain can be quite intense. It’s painful to move your head from side to side, and occasionally you’ll get shooting pains down your arm and very painful headaches. It’s difficult to do almost all your daily rituals. With luck, the pain will subside by the afternoon or evening, but sometimes it will linger for a day or two.
Now imagine that you’ve hurt your neck at work. This is not the same thing as sleeping in an awkward position. This involves neck pain more chronic than acute. It could be the result of wear and tear over many years of sitting at a desk. It may involve being in a car accident while running errands for your employer. You may have injured your neck when an object fell on it from above. Or you may have hurt your neck trying to lift a heavy patient onto a gurney or into a bed.
While workplace neck injuries are not as common as other kinds of injuries, they can be just as painful and debilitating, often involving days, weeks or even months away from work. If you have injured your neck on the job in Pennsylvania, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation.
How the Neck Works
A neck injury is also called a cervical injury because the cervical spine comprises the major bones of the neck. Meanwhile, the muscles of your neck are tissues that allow motion when stimulated. These muscles run from the base of your skull to your upper back and protect your cervical spine. These muscles work to allow you to bend your head and assist in your breathing.
The parts of the neck include:
- The first cervical vertebra, called the atlas
- The second cervical vertebra, called the axis
- The vertebral body
- Spinal discs between each vertebra
- Spinal nerves
- Spinal cord
- Blood vessels
- Pharynx, which is the hollow tube that connects your nose and throat to your trachea and esophagus
- Larynx, also known as the voice box
- Thyroid gland
- Lymph nodes
Different Types of Neck Injuries
While many neck injuries are minor, major neck injuries can be extremely debilitating and painful. Neck pain can result from a variety of injuries:
- Overused and weak muscles: This is a common problem for people who work at desk jobs, especially for a long time and as they grow older. Overused muscles can result in pain, stiffness, repetitive stress injuries and often bad headaches. Work-related tasks that require you to tilt your head back against your neck can also cause muscle problems. These tasks include activities like painting, cleaning a ceiling or being required to repeatedly stock shelves or remove items from the shelves located above your head.
- Normal wear and tear on the spine area of your neck: It’s normal that over your lifetime, you will acquire signs of wear and tear on your cervical spine. Your spinal discs will flatten out, and occasionally you will get small bone spurs called osteochondrosis. If you develop osteoarthritis in your neck, this can make it difficult to move it. As you age, your chances of hurting your neck in a work-related injury increase because of this usual wear and tear.
- Whiplash: Whiplash causes your head to move rapidly forward in a jerking motion and then snap back. Whiplash can result in injuries to the connective and muscle tissues. It can make it very difficult to move your head for days or weeks. In severe cases, it can result in debilitating pain and difficulty moving for months and may require surgery. Whiplash happens most often in car accidents, especially when your car is hit from behind.
- Slipped or herniated disc: If the tissue in a spinal disc leaks or bulges out, it can put pressure on a nerve or the spine. This results in pain that affects your neck and can travel from your neck to your shoulder or to your arm. While not every slipped disc results in extreme pain, if not treated using physical therapy or even surgery, it can be very debilitating.
- Stinger: This is a sudden injury to the nerve root often caused by trauma. It is an injury familiar to football fans as players often suffer this injury due to hard tackles or collisions.
- Neck fracture: A fall or sudden trauma can result in a break in your cervical spine. Known as a neck fracture, it can be serious and often results in wearing a head brace to stabilize the neck.
Regardless of the nature of a neck-related injury, an injured worker may have difficulty sleeping, suffer headaches, have difficulty turning their head from side to side or experience painful stiffness.
Common Reasons Why the Neck Is Injured
Work-related neck injuries compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2014 show that only about 1.5% of all work-related injuries involve the neck. That’s just over 16,000 total injuries a year. While work-related neck injuries may not be as common as other kinds of job-related injuries, they can result in almost as many days away from work as a back or a leg injury and more missed days than a hand or an eye injury.
Neck injuries can damage your nervous system as a result of affecting the spinal cord or irritating nerves. This can result in soft tissue damage and injured joints. Diagnosing nerve pain is not as easy as diagnosing a back injury or a leg injury.
Some of the reasons that you may injure your back as a result of a job-related activity include:
- Sitting at a desk for a long time: While you may not suffer neck-related pain if your job requires you to only occasionally work at a desk, if you are a computer programmer, a journalist or an administrative assistant and spend long hours at your desk, you may develop neck-related pain. This is more likely as you grow older or if your job is very stressful.
- Slips and falls: You can injure your neck on the job as a result of a slip and fall because of a wet floor, broken steps, loose debris or poor lighting. A work-related fall can result in a partial dislocation of your cervical spine, which can damage muscle and ligaments and create instability in your neck. In severe cases, paralysis is possible. A cervical dislocation may require surgery.
- Car accidents: If your job requires you to do a great deal of driving and you are involved in a car accident, whiplash is a potential problem. As stated earlier, whiplash is when the head moves forward rapidly and snaps back. This can injure the muscles and connective tissues, making it difficult to move your head. Severe cases of whiplash can cause issues for months and may require surgery.
- Overexertion or heavy lifting: When your job involves repeated lifting, pushing, carrying or pulling any object that weighs more than 20 pounds, you are in danger of injuring your neck if you don’t use proper lifting techniques or if you must repeatedly move heavy objects.
- Falling objects: If your job involves stacking or picking out orders from shelves above your head or if you drive a forklift, you are in danger of injuring your neck as a result of a falling object.
Jobs That Can Result in a Work-Related Neck Injury
A neck injury is a possibility regardless of the kind of job you perform. For instance, if you slip or fall or if an object falls on your neck, it doesn’t matter what your job description is. There are, however, some jobs that have a higher risk of neck injuries than other jobs. These include:
- Nurses: Neck pain also goes with back pain, and nurses, who have one of the highest incidences of back pain, also have relatively high instances of neck pain. This is normally caused by repeatedly having to lift heavy or severely disabled patients off gurneys or out of wheelchairs into a bed.
- Drivers: If your job requires you to spend long hours driving a car or truck, your chances of being involved in a car accident are greatly increased. While severe injuries can result from any car accident, even minor ones such as being rear-ended can cause whiplash or other neck related injuries.
- Stock or shelving clerks: A job that requires that you spend long hours stocking or picking materials from shelves above your head can result in strained neck muscles and chronic neck pain.
- Construction workers, miners and laborers: Any job that requires you to repeatedly lift, pull, haul or push any object weighing 20 pounds or more can result in chronic neck pain, headaches and shooting pains in your shoulders or arms.
- Forklift operators: If an object drops on a forklift driver or if they are injured when their forklift overturns, severe neck injuries are a possibility.
- Professional athletes: A neck injury is a possibility in any form of contact sports such as football, hockey or soccer, as well as in sports like cycling or swimming. Football, in particular, can result in dangerous neck injuries.
Common Treatments for Work-Related Neck Injuries
As we noted above, many neck injuries are relatively minor and may result in discomfort for only a day or two. Other more severe neck injuries may last for weeks or months. Some of the more common treatments for neck-related injuries include:
- Prescription pain medications
- Anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen
- Visits to a chiropractor
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
- Wearing a surgical collar or brace
When treating a work-related neck injury, your doctor can best advise you on the form of treatment needed to improve your cervical spine or neck injury.
What to Do If You Injure Your Neck at Work
If your neck has been injured as a result of a work-related incident, you should report it to your employer as soon as possible. It does not matter if the injury occurred in your workplace, while you were working on a job-related task off-site or if you are driving. Make sure you notify the correct person — telling a coworker that you were injured is not enough to make you eligible for workers’ compensation. Tell your immediate supervisor, or if your facility has a healthcare nurse, notify them. If possible, it’s best to do this notification in writing.
If seriously hurt, seek immediate medical attention. Always tell every doctor or nurse who treats that you suffered your injury at work. Carefully describe the situation and how you were injured. This is essential for workers’ compensation eligibility because it will make it much harder for your employer or their insurance company to claim that you either weren’t hurt or weren’t hurt badly enough to receive workers’ compensation.
After you have received medical attention, then notify your employer about your injury. Under Pennsylvania law, you have 120 days to notify your employer that you have been injured on the job. However, do not wait this long. Notify your employer as soon as possible. If you wait, you’re handing the employer’s insurance company a card they can use against you. Report your injury even if you don’t think it’s serious or don’t want to cause a fuss. If you later change your mind once the pain becomes a problem, the insurance company will claim you did not suffer the injury on the job or that it could not have been serious because you waited so long to report it.
Pennsylvania law also requires that for the first 90 days, you seek treatment from a doctor from a list of doctors prepared in advance by your employer. Usually this list will include the names of six doctors and will be posted in the workplace. After 90 days have elapsed, you can see your own doctor again, although you must notify the insurance company that you are changing physicians within five days of doing so. If you do not see one of the doctors recommended by your employer during the first 90 days, your employer and their insurance company will not cover any visits.
Once you have reported your injury to your employer, your employer’s insurance carrier has 21 days to determine if you qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
If the insurance company decides that your work-related injuries are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, you will begin to receive benefits after you’ve been off the job for seven days. If you miss fewer than seven days as a result of a work-related injury, workers’ compensation benefits will not be paid.
If you report your injury within 21 days of its occurrence, you are eligible for wage-loss benefits from the first day you were injured. If you wait longer than 21 days, you are eligible to receive benefits on the day that you report your injury. If your injury means that you are unable to work for longer than 14 days, you will be compensated for the first week. If you are eligible for workers’ compensation, all medical costs will be covered immediately.
If your employer’s insurance company decides that it will not pay you workers’ compensation benefits, immediately contact a workers’ compensation attorney. You should also file a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ Compensation in Pennsylvania
Created in 1915 to protect both injured workers and employers, Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. This means that if you suffer a work-related injury, whether it was your fault or your employer’s fault, you may still be eligible for workers’ compensation. When an employee who suffers a work-related injury applies for workers’ compensation, they give up their right to sue their employer. However, if the accident was caused by a third-party — a manufacturer’s error led to equipment failure, for instance — an injured worker may sue that party and still be eligible for workers’ compensation.
In Pennsylvania, every company or individual that employs at least one employee is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Not every worker is covered. Some occupations have their own form of workers’ compensation such as federal government employees, railroad workers and dockyard workers. Anyone working as a consultant is not covered by workers’ compensation regardless of their occupation.
If you have suffered a work-related neck injury, and medical evidence proves that your injury is either partially or totally disabling, workers’ compensation benefits will cover all relevant medical expenses and compensate you for two-thirds of your average weekly wage. Your average weekly wage is calculated using the last 52 weeks of your employment. Limits apply to this total. In 2019, injured workers can receive at most $1,049 a week. So even if your salary was $100,000 a year, the most you would receive is $1,049 a week in workers’ compensation lost-wage benefits.
Lost wage benefits will be awarded when you have suffered a total disability, a partial disability or when you are eligible for a Specific Loss Award.
1. Total Disability
If medical evidence shows that your work-related injury results in total disability, you are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits as long as this disability lasts. The insurance company, however, will request that you take an Independent Rating Evaluation (IRE) after 104 weeks. While the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled IREs unconstitutional in 2017, the government of Pennsylvania and employers reached an agreement that reinstated IREs as a tool to determine the severity of the worker’s disability.
Under the new legislation, if a worker is determined to be more than 35% disabled, they will continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits for the duration of the disability. If a doctor determines that an injured worker is less 35% disabled, they will be switched to partial disability benefits. An injured worker is eligible for partial disability workers’ compensation benefits for no more than 500 weeks or about 9 ½ years.
2. Partial Disability
A worker who suffered a work-related partial disability may return to their job or their employer. They may need to work under physician-ordered medical restrictions until they are either fully recovered or for the duration of their employment. If your employer finds you a new less physically demanding job at less pay than you received at your previous occupation, workers’ compensation will pay you two-thirds of the difference between what you previously earned and what you are currently earning in the new occupation.
3. Specific Loss Awards
You are eligible for these benefits if you have suffered an injury that results in a loss of a body part or if you are disfigured. These benefits are determined by which body part has become unusable or disfigured. If your head, face or neck has been disfigured, you are eligible to receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage for a maximum 275 weeks depending on the severity of the disfigurement.
What is the process if my Workers’ Compensation is denied?
If your employer’s insurance company accepts liability for your work-related injury after 21 days, they will send you an Agreement of Compensation. If they deny your claim, you will receive a Notice of Workers’ Compensation Denial.
- If your employer’s insurance company denies your initial claim, you need to file a claim petition. You have three years from the date you suffered your work-related injury file a claim petition. The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation of Pennsylvania will then assign a workers’ compensation judge to hear your case. This judge will notify you and your employer’s insurance carrier where and when the hearing will be held.
- If the judge denies or dismisses your claim, you can appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. You must file within 20 days of the day the judge issued your written decision.
- If the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board denies or dismisses your claim, you have 30 days to appeal the decision with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
- If the court decides against you, you have another 30 days to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This is the last avenue of appeal.
This can be a lengthy process, lasting years. Injured workers often have to wait weeks or months for their Claim to be heard. At any point during this process, however, you can seek a settlement with your employer’s insurance company.
Can I be fired for filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
Your employer cannot fire you because you have filed a workers’ compensation claim. They can, however, dismiss you for certain reasons. They can cite poor job performance, layoffs that had been planned before you were injured or say they cannot find you a new job that encompasses your medical restrictions. If you have been laid off or dismissed and you believe that your employer has lied to you about the reasons for your dismissal, immediately contact a workers’ compensation lawyer.
Settling Your Work-Related Neck Injury
You may have several reasons to seek a settlement offer from the employer’s insurance carrier. Before you accept any settlement, talk to your workers’ compensation lawyer to make sure that the settlement is fair to you. A workers’ compensation attorney can help determine if your settlement will have any effect on future medical payments, possible tax implications and if the final settlement provides enough income for the future.
Some of the reasons for accepting an injury settlement from your employer’s insurance company include:
- You have found a new job.
- You find the workers’ compensation process annoying and frustrating.
- Numerous disputes over claims have delayed the workers’ compensation process, and you have not received any benefits.
- You need money to pay for medical bills or other living expenses.
Often an injured employee will wait until a physician determines the worker has reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) — when a doctor has determined your injury has healed as much as it is likely to heal — before they decide to settle with their employer’s insurance company. Only when an injured worker has reached MMI will they know about future medical and living costs.
Some of the reasons for not accepting a settlement offer include:
- You receive an inadequate offer from the insurance carrier.
- Your employer has found you a new job that allows you to work with medical restrictions, and you are enjoying the new job, but the insurance company wants you to quit before they offer you a settlement.
- You don’t yet know about future medical or living costs.
Benefits of Working With a Workers’ Comp Attorney
Filing a workers’ compensation claim or negotiating a settlement can be a frustrating process. Workers’ compensation insurance companies are notorious for their unwillingness to award injured workers benefits. They will try anything to either avoid paying you benefits or to pay you as little as possible. If you are still recovering from a serious neck injury, it can be difficult for you to fight the insurance company on your own. The process of gathering important documents and medical evidence can severely limit your ability to fight back.
Experience workers’ comp attorneys know how to fight insurance companies when they try to trick you. They can assist you in gathering necessary medical evidence and documentation to prove your case and to improve your chances at a reasonable and fair settlement.
Benefits of Working With Calhoon and Kaminsky P.C.
We offer a free evaluation of your work-related neck injury case. We will visit you and discuss your workers’ compensation claim if you cannot come to us. At Calhoon and Kaminsky P.C., we want to help all our clients get the benefits that they are legally entitled to receive. We want to ensure that our clients are treated fairly.
Our free guide explains more about the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system. If you are interested in discussing your case with one of our experienced attorneys, call (717) 695-4722 or visit our contact us page. Here, you can leave us your contact information and some details about your situation, and one of our team members will contact you as soon as possible.