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The Texas Labor Code defines an injury according to Texas workers’ compensation law in Section 411.011.  That section indicates that an injury is damage or harm to the physical structure of the body and a disease or infection naturally resulting from the damage or harm. The term “injury” includes an occupational disease.  This law further explains that an occupational disease means a disease arising out of and in the course of employment that causes damage or harm to the physical structure of the body, including a repetitive trauma injury. The term includes a disease or infection that naturally results from the work-related disease. The term does not include an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed outside of employment, unless that disease is an incident to a compensable injury or occupational disease.

Injuries From Specific Events

The general rule is that an injured worker sustained an injury if the work event resulted in damage or harm to his body.  Damage or harm can be anything as small as a contusion or a paper cut, and as bad as anything you can imagine – a herniated disc in the spine, the loss of a limb, and even a loss of life.  Injuries that result from an event that occurred at a definite time and place are said to have been the result of a specific event.  This becomes important when you file your workers’ compensation claim because it affects your legal date of injury.  It also sets up how you will prove the cause of your injuries.  You will prove that the injury resulted from that one specific event as opposed to a breakdown of the body over a long time period.

Repetitive Trauma Injuries

 The statute also indicates that an injury according to Texas workers’ compensation law can include a repetitive trauma injury.  These are injuries that occur over time due to a repeated action that slowly causes damage to the body.  Carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive typing is an example of a repetitive trauma injury.  A repeated exposure to an injurious chemical can also result in a repetitive trauma injury.  These are injuries or diseases that build up slowly over a long time period until they overwhelm your defense mechanisms and cause damage to your body.

Specific Event vs. Repetitive Trauma

Injuries that result from a specific event are much easier to prove than injuries caused by repetitive trauma.  It is much easier for someone to understand how you broke your arm after falling off of a ladder, than it is to convince someone that you damaged your lungs by spraying pest control chemicals into people’s homes for the last five years.  We all understand how trauma can break a bone, but we don’t know anything about the chemicals a pest control company uses in our homes and how they might cause an injury.  Don’t we believe that these chemicals are not harmful to ourselves and our pets because that is what the advertising says about them?

Sometimes, there is confusion about whether a certain activity is a specific event or a repetitive activity.  Any time you can make an activity a specific event, do it!  It’s much easier to prove. 

Think about a guy that unloads boxes from a trailer one day and stacks them on a pallet.  When he picks up one of the boxes and twists to set it down on the pallet, he feels a sharp pain in his low back.  After he finishes unloading the truck he is in extreme pain and has to take a break.  Do you think that is a specific event or a repetitive activity?  A repetitive activity doesn’t happen in the course of one day.  It happens over a long period of time.  This is a specific event.  The worker picked up a lot of boxes, but his injury occurred when he picked up that one box and twisted with it and felt the sharp pain in his low back.  It’s a specific event that occurred at a definite time and place.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Most people have some kind of underlying condition going on in their body that they may not even know about.  If you are over the age of 35, you may have degeneration going on in your spine or joints.  This is even more likely if you have performed physical labor for awhile or played sports growing up.  You may not have any symptoms from this pre-existing condition, but it is there.  It is likely that you won’t even know about it until after you get hurt and get an MRI. 

Our pre-existing conditions make us susceptible to injury.  When you injure a body part that already has some degenerative changes present, you have to prove that you aggravated that pre-existing condition before the insurance company is responsible for paying for that injury.  Aggravation has a legal meaning.  To prove an aggravation of a preexisting condition, there must be some enhancement, acceleration, or worsening of the underlying condition.  Sometimes that is as easy as comparing an MRI from an old injury to an MRI after the new injury.  Other times, a doctor may need to explain what findings on the MRI were made worse by the work accident.  You can see that it can become a very tricky situation.

Conclusion

An injury according to Texas workers’ compensation law is damage or harm to the physical structure of the body.  This can be from a one-time specific event, or it can be from repetitive trauma over a long time period.  It is generally easier to prove a specific injury as opposed to a repetitive trauma injury.  Pre-existing conditions muddy the waters and make it hard to prove new damage or harm to the body.  However, an aggravation of the pre-existing condition is a covered injury according to Texas workers’ compensation law.

Leave a comment below about your experience with a specific injury or a repetitive trauma injury.