Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Law categorizes the causes of work injuries into two groups: traumatic and occupational.
Most employees understand that worker’s compensation rules allow claims for traumatic or sudden injury (such as an injury resulting from a fall off a ladder). Unfortunately, many employees do not understand that those rules also allow claims for injury and disease that arise slowly, even over a course of years, as a result of wear and tear on the job, or as a result of work exposure to toxic substances, such as silica dust. These are the “occupational” claims. They are also called “wear and tear” injuries.
As a result, many employees who become debilitated through their jobs never make claims for worker’s compensation because they do not know it’s even possible.
Example of a Successful Claim: A typical occupational disease claim often involves a joint, such as a knee. One of our clients worked for years as a custodian for the Madison School District. She badly hurt one of her knees as a child, and she is overweight. Her employment at the school district required her to be on her feet for most of her shift. As time passed, her knee got worse and worse, to the point she could no longer do her job, so she hired us to make a work-injury claim on her behalf. The school district and its insurance carrier fought the claim on the basis of a medical opinion they obtained from Dr. Thomas O’Brien, a physician who frequently writes opinions at the request of the insurance industry. He concluded that our client’s knee problem was not work-related, but resulted instead from her childhood injury and from her excess weight.
As a result of the claim we made on our client’s behalf, she won worker’s compensation benefits. The judge who heard the case was persuaded that our client’s years on the job as a custodian contributed significantly to the deterioration of her knee. The fact that our client had a pre-existing condition that also contributed to her disability was irrelevant.
Nothing in Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Law requires that an employee’s job duties be the only factor leading to injury, or even the main factor. Rather, work may be just one among many factors, so long as it is material in either the development or progression of the condition that is the subject of the claim.
Consider these points:
- The Wisconsin Labor & Industry Review Commission has determined that employment constituting as little as 5% of the aggregate cause of a disability qualifies as a material causative factor of injury for which worker’s compensation benefits may be claimed.
- Whether our client’s knee eventually would have deteriorated to the same extent even if she had never worked as a custodian also does not matter under Wisconsin law, and the fact that a lighter, fitter, younger worker might not have suffered any knee injury while doing the same job does not constitute a defense. 
- We demonstrated that our client’s job duties accelerated her pre-existing disability; that was and is enough to support a worker’s compensation claim.
- And finally, the fact that our client was injured simply through normal exertion (walking around the workplace) also constituted no defense; under Wisconsin rules, even injuries arising just from normal, routine activity at work are compensable.
Whether Dr. O’Brien misunderstood these rules, or ignored them, is unclear. (Occasionally some treating doctors also fail to understand Wisconsin causation standards, or – even worse – appear to disapprove of them. We can help you by making sure your doctor understands the Wisconsin rules on work injuries.)
What we have described here is not an unusual work history. What is perhaps unusual about this case is the fact that our client suspected she might have some sort of claim, and contacted us to figure that out. We have also had clients who consulted us about traumatic work injuries but did not know they had occupational claims, too. If you have questions about injuries that may be related to your work in some way, contact us for a free review of your situation.
Examples of workers who often experience “wear and tear” that results in compensable occupational injuries:
Workers in medical fields:
- EMTs ( Emergency Medical Technicians) and Fire Department medical technicians and rescue workers)
- Nurses of all types (clinic and hospital nurses, nursing-home nurses, visiting nurses and in-home nurses)
- Nurse assistants (also known as nursing assistants, NAs or N.A.s)
- Certified Nurse Assistants, CNA, C.N.A. (also known as certified nursing assistants)
- Medical Assistants (also known as MAs or M.A.s)
- Certified Medical Assistants (also known as CMAs or C.M.A.s)
- Environmental Services workers
- Custodians or Custodial workers
- Maintenance workers
- Installation technicians
- Cable installers or cable installation technicians
Factory laborers and factory workers:
- Brake press operators
- Press operators / pressmen
- Machine operators
- Factory line workers
HVAC industry workers:
- HVAC technicians
- HVAC workers
- HVAC laborers
Construction workers of all types
Important: This list gives you an idea of some of the work that often leads to occupational injury claims. There are many others. No workers, including employees with light duties, are immune from injury on the job.
Contact us to discuss whether the physical activity of your job may be causing or aggravating your physical condition. You may have a compensable occupational injury.
 Semons, Dept. Store v. DILHR, 50 Wis. 2d 518 (1971)
 Woelffer v. Kohler Co., 2000 WL 258590, WC Claim No. 1992017380 (LIRC Feb. 3, 2000)
 Thompson v. J & L Fiber, LIRC May 21, 2003
 Semons Dept. Store v. DILHR, 50 Wis. 2d 518 (1971
 Brown v. Industrial Commission, 9 Wis. 2d 555, 570 (1960)