Should I pursue compensation for an old work injury?
January 26, 2014 9:38 PM   Subscribe

10 years ago, I worked as a secretary for a small business. Towards the end of my time there I was asked to lift something heavy and ended up injuring my back (herniated disk). Should I pursue some kind of compensation?

Back then I was a passive 19 year old and did not think I had the option of saying no to my boss when he asked me to move something heavy. I was used to him bossing me around, wanted to keep my job, and I never thought about a risk of permanent injury. And I was much taller than him so I figured maybe it made sense for me to do the lifting... despite the fact that I was an unathletic young female secretary in a skirt and he was the gym-going type.

I left the job not long after, so my boss never knew about my injury. I figured there's no point, it wouldn't heal me and he was operating a small business that probably couldn't afford to compensate me. Shortly after the incident it hurt to the point where I couldn't move to get out of bed in the mornings. That faded in the first year, and I've been functional since then, but the problem has been getting worse in recent years and now I can't bend over, straighten up after sitting for a long time, do certain exercises, lift much of anything, or even walk sometimes without pangs of pain when I move in the wrong direction. Less than a year after the incident a chiropractor diagnosed me with a herniated disc and did a therapy session but it did nothing for me so I never went back.

Is there any point in pursuing this, so long after the fact? Had I known this kind of long-term grief awaited me, I might have considered some form of compensation earlier. The guy was a jerk but not entirely evil and I have no desire to sink his small business. (If it matters, I was never technically an employee, I worked in his office for 2 years as an independent contractor.)
posted by EarthwormGin to Law & Government (16 answers total)
I was never technically an employee

I'm not an attorney, but that statement, and the 10 years distance from the event feels like it would be unlikely you would find any compensation for this injury.

My advice, spend the $100 or so to have an hour with a good attorney to determine if there is even any point in looking into this.
posted by HuronBob at 9:44 PM on January 26, 2014

This is ultimately a question you would want to get legal advice for, but I think the first question to answer will initially be the statute of limitations for a workers compensation claim in the state that you were working. It varies quite a bit from state to state. Here in California, for example, the time limit is one year. However, some states are much higher, like Wisconsin, which has a 12 year limit.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:45 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Independent contractors are not eligible for workers compensation.
posted by Houstonian at 9:46 PM on January 26, 2014

Looks like the statute of limitations is 1 year for my state. I guess that answers my question. Thanks everyone.
posted by EarthwormGin at 9:48 PM on January 26, 2014

Also, Houstonian is correct. You have to be an employee to be eligible for WC benefits.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:50 PM on January 26, 2014

The fact that they claimed you were an IC doesn't mean you were. But the statute if limitations makes that question moot. You might stil have a consultation with an attorney in your jurisdiction.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:53 PM on January 26, 2014

Less than a year after the incident a chiropractor diagnosed me with a herniated disc and did a therapy session but it did nothing for me so I never went back.

Yeah, chiropractors are like that. A herniated disc is not something you can fix with one therapy session, though there are undoubtedly chiros who believe they can.

Go get some advice from a proper physiotherapist. A herniated disc will always require somewhat more gentle treatment than one that's never been injured, but there's no reason for the rest of your life to involve disabling pain.
posted by flabdablet at 10:44 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only reason you should ever go into a chiropractor's office is if the real doctor you were seeing next door had a blocked up toilet and you needed a restroom.

I have three herniated discs in my upper back/lower neck that have been giving me monstrous chronic pain for about the past 3 years or so, and I finally got them taken care of with a couple of cortisone injections. I no longer wake up in horrible pain and it's fucking awesome.

See a lawyer if you want, but more importantly see a real doctor like a orthopedist. There are ones that specialize in every different section of the back. You may get sent to more physical therapy, or they may suggest you see a pain management specialist.
posted by elizardbits at 11:18 PM on January 26, 2014 [14 favorites]

A chiropracter's "diagnosis" is a sales pitch.
posted by spitbull at 12:25 AM on January 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Mm... it seems you've pretty well burned your paths to real compensation (which ought to have been covered by the guy's insurance policy so it's not a case where it would jeopardise his business save for a possible increase in premiums -- but you are in USA and maybe that sort of workplace insurance isn't compulsory?? But the contractor status might nullify this anyway).

There's a 'soft' alternative. You MUST get a report from an orthopaedic surgeon and they must sheet home responsibility of ongoing problems to that event 10 years ago. I would ask them to jot down a treatment regime along with the reasonable associated costs.

Is there any other evidence (written: diaries etc; or verbal: witnesses) that you might rely on to prove the event and the resultant injury back then or soon after?? If so, I'd go and have a gentle talk with the former boss, taking the med report, letters, affadavits or the whathaveyou. I would ask for a .. say .. 10% contribution to the cost of your treatment. I wouldn't talk about "legal compensation" or suing or lawyers or anything like that. I'd just tell them it's a true situation and it's put you in a bad spot and you'd be grateful if they would step up.

I expect they'll tell you to piss off, but you need the ortho review anyway, so you may as well get a report and make an appointment with the old boss. There is nothing to lose here.
posted by peacay at 5:27 AM on January 27, 2014

You MUST get a report from an orthopaedic surgeon and they must sheet home responsibility of ongoing problems to that event 10 years ago.

I don't think any reputable medical professional would be able to or willing to claim that a current issue was caused by an event that happened a decade ago, long before you were in their care. There's no way for them to know that lifting that box ten years ago did the damage, and I can't imagine them putting their license on the line saying that it did.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:51 AM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

schroedingersgirl, perhaps I overemphasised the way the link needs to be established. There's no license problem here. You go to a dr and you give the history and they ask questions and examine you. They then write a report. Now, if the story and their findings on examination are inconsistent they'll say so. Same if they consider behaviour and sport and jobs and accidents in the intervening years have played a role. (and remember, they'll see xrays and scans which will be a little helpful dating the injury probably).
I guess what I meant was this: there is no point (pretty obviously) going to ask for money from the old boss if that ortho report is either not supportive or is downright skeptical of the given history and findings on examination.
(I had a lot to do with insurance & injuries & medical evidence in the past; IANAL, but these are just standard principles of reports/injury assessment)
posted by peacay at 7:38 AM on January 27, 2014

I guess what I meant was this: there is no point (pretty obviously) going to ask for money from the old boss if that ortho report is either not supportive or is downright skeptical of the given history and findings on examination.

Yes, but what I am saying is that no reputable doctor will write in an injury assessment that OP's current issues are definitely the result of an injury that happened ten years ago. There's just no way for the doctor to prove that the OP's current troubles are really the result of that particular injury.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2014

Let's agree to disagree. They're not being asked to fudge or lie; they make an assessment using their expertise. They work off the history given, any reports received from referring doctors, the results of any tests including radiology and their findings on examination.

It is deep within their purview to judge causation. If our OP is going to be disbelieved or challenged then, in either a common argument or a court case, further evidence would have to be adduced in support of alternative causation and a judge would render a verdict. But that doesn't mean that our ortho's opinion is discredited in any way. They may not be privy to complete details of the case for one reason or another and professionals can of course disagree on causation when the situation isn't 100% clear cut.

But you are wrong in saying the ortho is at risk because 10 years is a long time - they have the training and credibility to give an opinion; theirs is THE most important opinion but by the same token, the onus is on them to say if their opinion has any caveats attached such as it's possible their opinion might be modified if earlier record are found or the patient agrees to have a bone scan or the like.
In other words, in a true legal sense, it's not the dr's place to prove anything - that's the job of the court and the opposing team were it still possible for the OP to sue.

But in reality, and following what I consider to be the only recourse available now, the OP would come armed with a report that says the accident caused the injury and they would be relying on the old boss's moral compass to chip in some cash.

You are wrong about the dr not being able to render an opinion (yes, that's what it's called: an opinion) on causation. I'm telling you sincerely that I've seen this a thousand times. Then the other side gets an opinion and we end up with jousting experts in court (not really: their reports are tendered and maybe they are cross examined--that's really where the veracity of their opinion can be tested).

A final thought: we want a treatment report from the specialist and not a forensic report; it may not make much different to what they write, depending on the dr, but I would ask for it that way so they see what you're most interested in. That in itself lens a tiny bit of credibility to the history, because they'll see the OP didn't come primarily for compensatory claims. Id tell them who it will be shown to and why; them probably be sympathetic to the idea.
posted by peacay at 3:59 PM on January 27, 2014

[Folks, please wrap up this sidebar here? Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:43 PM on January 27, 2014

Thanks everyone. I'm not going to pursue compensation, but this thread did encourage me to go seek further treatment from a proper doctor once I get health insurance again.
posted by EarthwormGin at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2014

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