Shoulder Injuries in Construction: Navigating Workers' Comp in New Jersey
Work-related shoulder injuries can be painful and debilitating
Shoulder injuries are among the most common reasons construction and skilled tradesmen file workers’ compensation claims in New Jersey. In terms of time off work, medical bills, and the potential for necessary long-term treatment, they are also among the most expensive, non-fatal work injuries covered by the workers’ comp system.
Unfortunately, the insurance companies know this. It’s why they may put in extra effort to fight workers’ compensation claims involving shoulder injuries.
Contacting an experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible after a work-related shoulder injury can help ensure the injured worker receives the maximum benefits they deserve.
Common shoulder injuries in construction
There are primarily two kinds of work-related shoulder injuries in construction – those that develop over time due to things like heavy lifting and the vibrations of power tools, and those that result suddenly from an accident at work. In New Jersey, both types of shoulder injuries are covered by workers’ comp.
Some of the most common causes of shoulder injuries for construction workers include repetitive motions, overexertion, awkward postures, vibration from hand tools and large machinery, lack of injury recovery time, trips, falls, as well as heavy equipment accidents and motor vehicle crashes.
Shoulder injuries due to construction accidents
- Dislocation. Dislocation of the shoulder occurs when the upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder socket. In construction accidents, forceful impacts or falls can lead to the displacement of the shoulder joint, causing severe pain, swelling, and limited mobility.
- Bursitis. Inflammation of the bursa sac, which cushions the shoulder joint, can occur from repetitive movements or trauma. Medical intervention, injections, and/or physical therapy may be necessary to reduce swelling.
- Brachial Plexus injury. Accidents involving forceful impacts or trauma can result in injuries to the brachial plexus, a network of nerves controlling the shoulder and arm. This can lead to pain, weakness, or even paralysis in the shoulder and arm.
- Labral tear. Damage to the cartilage ring (labrum) that surrounds the shoulder socket may be caused by heavy lifting or repetitive motions that weaken the ring until there is a slowly developing or sudden tear.
- Bone fracture. Falls from heights or direct impacts can lead to a break in one or more of the bones making up the shoulder - collarbone (clavicle), shoulder blade (scapula), and upper arm (humerus). Hairline fractures may develop over time, as well, due to repetitive vibrations or heavy lifting. Treatment may involve immobilization, medication, or, in severe cases, surgical intervention.
- Axillary nerve injury. Trauma to the shoulder area can result in damage to the axillary nerve, leading to symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and weakness in the shoulder and upper arm.
Employers have a legal obligation to provide workers with safe working environments. In construction, that means adhering to federal safety standards, installing fall protection measures, regular safety training, and providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when appropriate.
However, to avoid severe and fatal injuries on the job, it's important for construction workers to be aware of safety measures, too, and to seek prompt medical attention if an injury occurs while on the job.
Shoulder injuries that develop over time
Shoulder pain and injuries are common in all types of construction work, including residential, commercial, excavation, renovation, demolition, industrial, and public infrastructure building.
The main risk factor for shoulder injuries is prolonged forceful overhead work. Studies estimate that about 10-12 percent of all construction laborers show up to jobs with significant work-related shoulder pain, with electricians, carpenters, and painters among the most likely in the field to suffer from occupational shoulder damage.
Here are some of the most common shoulder injuries that construction workers develop over time:
- Tendonitis. Tendonitis is the inflammation of tendons, which are fibrous tissues connecting muscles to bones. It typically results from repetitive motion, use, or tension, leading to micro-traumas that, if not given adequate recovery time, can progress to fraying or tearing of the tendon fibers, commonly affecting areas such as wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Major factors include regular use of hand-held power drills, power saws, needle guns, chipping hammers, rotary hammer drills, and prolonged overhead work.
- Rotator cuff tendonitis. Rotator cuff tendonitis is the predominant shoulder tendon disorder, frequently linked to occupations involving prolonged elbow elevation during overhead tasks. Such activities exert stress on shoulder tendons and arm sockets, potentially leading to the development of "frozen shoulder" syndrome (Adhesive Capsulitis), characterized by severe pain and impaired shoulder function. Those who do sheet metal work, plumbing, painting, and drywall installation are prone to the onset of rotator cuff tendonitis.
- Rotator cuff tear. Tasks involving repetitive overhead movements or heavy lifting can lead to tears in the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. This can cause pain, weakness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder. This type of injury may also be sustained suddenly in an accident, like a car crash.
- Impingement Syndrome. Overhead activities common in construction work may contribute to impingement syndrome, where the tendons of the rotator cuff become compressed, leading to pain, inflammation, and reduced shoulder function.
- Strains, sprains, and pain. Strains, sprains, bruises, and tears in the shoulder muscles or tendons can occur from overexertion or sudden, forceful movements during construction work. This type of musculoskeletal injury can lead to persistent pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. The damage may develop into chronic pain if untreated or undertreated.
Shoulder injuries and the workers’ comp process
After a work accident, or as soon as a worker is aware they are hurt, they should seek urgent medical treatment for their shoulder injury. This is necessary to protect their physical health and a potential workers’ compensation claim or lawsuit. A doctor can provide a thorough medical examination, create images of the injury, diagnose the issue, and start treatment.
Workers injured on the job are not required to cover the expense of occupational damage out of their own pockets. With a few exceptions, all injured workers are entitled to workers’ comp benefits. New Jersey workers' compensation pays for the “necessary and reasonable” medical treatment and disability payments in place of wages lost while the worker heals.
While many workers have health insurance, it is usually better to apply for benefits through workers’ comp. The program typically covers more associated medical expenses than health insurance and does not require copays or deductibles.
To recover benefits, injured construction workers must first inform their employer of their injury (it is best to do this in writing to document the important step). Next, contact a workers’ compensation attorney with a strong track record of successful work injury claims and lawsuits in New Jersey. Most offer free case evaluations in which they can assess their WC eligibility, answer questions, and explain the legal options specifically available to the individual and/or their family.
Why shoulder injury benefits are sometimes denied
Once a claim has been filed, the employer’s workers’ comp insurance provider or a self-insured employer will investigate the claim and decide on benefit eligibility. These decisions are frequently unfair to the worker or out-and-out wrong. Some employers and their insurance companies will use any excuse to get out of paying injured workers what they are owed. They may:
- Try to prove the injury did not happen at work.
- Question the need for certain tests or medical treatment.
- Pressure an injured employee into working before they are fully healed.
- Deny payment for a completed surgery or treatment that had the insurer’s prior approval.
- Try to prove the injury is the result of a WC exemption – for example, work injuries due to the injured person’s drug or alcohol consumption or participation in horseplay are not covered by workers’ comp.
- Accuse the employee of faking their injury.
Workers who disagree with a WC decision have a right to challenge it by filing a claim or hearing request with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation.
Medical treatment options for construction-related shoulder injuries
Shoulder injuries from construction work may necessitate a range of medical treatments tailored to the specific nature and severity of the injury. Common treatments include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications for pain relief.
- Joint aspiration, or Arthrocentesis, is the removal of excess synovial fluid from the joint cavity.
- Arthroscopic surgery is minimally invasive and may be necessary for rotator cuff or labral repair.
- Bone fracture repair, which may involve fixation using plates, screws, or pins to stabilize the bones.
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
- Decompression surgeries, like subacromial decompression, may be considered to create more space for tendons.
- Physical therapy to increase and maintain range of motion.
- Rest and immobilization.
Employees with injured shoulders should avoid settling their claims before they achieve MMI (maximum medical improvement). At this point, the employee has recovered their health, or as much of it as possible. With a full understanding of their injury severity, medical expenses, and long-term impact of the injury, a worker can seek substantial compensation from a position of knowledge and power.
We help construction workers with shoulder injuries file NJ claims
An experienced New Jersey workers’ comp attorney can calculate a claim’s true value and build a strong case for full compensation. At Shebell & Shebell, LLC, our workers' compensation and construction accident lawyers have been protecting workers’ rights since 1927. We know how the New Jersey WC system works and how to make it work for injured construction workers.
Are you a New Jersey subcontractor, contractor, laborer, or skilled tradesman? Was your shoulder injured due to work in New Jersey? Find out how we can help you. Contact us for a free case evaluation.
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