Learn about your rights to workers’ comp benefits after a whiplash injury at work
Whiplash injuries are a common type of injury that can occur at work, particularly in jobs that involve physical labor or operating heavy machinery. Although whiplash injuries are often associated with car accidents, they can be caused by any sudden jerking or twisting movements of the head and neck. In the workplace, these movements can happen when lifting heavy objects, operating machinery, or after a slip-and-fall accident.
Fortunately, most Arizona workers who sustain a whiplash injury at work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits while they recover.
What are whiplash injuries?
Whiplash occurs when the head quickly moves forward and backward or side to side due to a sudden external force, similar to the motion of a whip—hence the name. Rapid successive movement in multiple directions can sprain ligaments and strain the muscles in the neck.
In addition to driving a work vehicle, certain job activities increase the risk of a worker sustaining whiplash. These activities include the following:
- Playing a professional sport
- Working at elevated heights
- Using equipment that could strike a worker’s head
- Working on slippery or cluttered surfaces
Which workers are most likely to suffer a whiplash injury?
While nearly any worker could be exposed to hazards that lead to a whiplash injury, the following types of workers are at an increased risk:
Types of whiplash
Although whiplash primarily affects the neck, the condition’s symptoms can also extend into the shoulders and arms, as well as cause headaches. Physicians classify the severity of whiplash according to the following scale:
- Grade 0. Whiplash does not produce readily noticeable signs of injury.
- Grade 1. Pain is the only symptom.
- Grade 2. Additional symptoms accompany the pain, including bruising or swelling.
- Grade 3. In addition to pain and possible swelling, symptoms include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision or other neurological conditions.
- Grade 4. This is the most severe type of whiplash. In addition to being painful, the accompanying neurological symptoms are severe enough to disrupt the individual’s daily life.
Symptoms of whiplash
Whiplash can be difficult to diagnose in some patients because the signs of injury resemble the symptoms of other conditions. Symptoms can also vary from case to case depending on the severity of the injury.
The most signs of whiplash include:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Shoulder pain
- Upper back pain
- Pain in the arms or hands
- Numbness in the arms or hands
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
Treatment for whiplash
Doctors treat whiplash with the ultimate goal of minimizing the related symptoms while allowing the affected muscles and ligaments to heal on their own over time. Some whiplash patients require more intensive treatment throughout the healing process if they have more severe symptoms.
A treatment regimen for whiplash may include any combination of the following:
- Applying cold and hot compresses
- Physical therapy and exercise
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy (uses low-voltage electric currents to treat pain)
- Radiofrequency ablation (RNA) (uses radio waves sent through a needle to a nerve to prevent pain signals from reaching your brain)
- Spinal surgery
Arizona workers’ compensation system eligibility
Workers who sustain a whiplash injury at work may qualify to receive compensation under Arizona’s workers’ compensation laws. Also known as workers’ comp, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. This means that qualifying workers are entitled to benefits without regard to whether they or their employer caused the workplace accident that resulted in their injury as long as the injury was work-related.
Arizona state law requires most employers with even 1 employee to carry workers’ comp insurance to cover their full- and part-time workers in the event of a workplace accident. Workers who are legally classified by their employer as “employees” are eligible to receive workers’ comp. Volunteers and independent contractors are generally ineligible to receive workers’ comp benefits through an employer’s policy.
Most injured workers cannot sue and must go through the Arizona workers’ comp system (which is an “exclusive remedy”), but there are a few rare exceptions to this rule.
Types of benefits available to injured workers
Workers’ comp coverage provides 3 types of payment to injured workers. Depending on the nature of a work-related injury, the injured worker may receive the following:
- Payments to supplement lost income if the worker misses work due to the injury. This amount is typically two-thirds of your average weekly wage for a period of time that depends on your disability.
- Coverage for related medical expenses, including doctor bills, medical supplies and devices, surgeries, hospitalizations, rehabilitation, medication and medical-related transportation.
- Death benefits to the injured worker’s dependents if the work-related accident causes fatal injury, which includes money for funeral expenses and lost income.
3rd-party claims after a work-related accident
In some cases, an injured employee may be able to file a personal injury claim against a 3rd party (someone other than your employer) in addition to receiving whiplash compensation after a work-related accident.
For example, a manufacturer may be liable if a worker’s whiplash is caused by defective equipment, or another driver may be legally responsible for compensating the injured worker if the other driver caused a car or truck accident that resulted in the worker’s injury.
Personal injury claims can enable you to receive additional types of compensation that are not available through a workers comp claim, like pain and suffering damages. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can explain your rights and help determine which parties may be liable in your case.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim in Arizona
The workers’ comp system was designed to give injured workers relatively fast and efficient access to compensation. Workers can begin the claims process on their own; however, it’s always advisable to consult an attorney, especially since most attorneys offer free initial consultations.
To file a claim in Arizona, injured workers should do the following:
- Seek medical attention. This is an essential first step to establishing that your injury is work-related.
- Notify your employer. This should be done as soon as possible to ensure your chance at compensation. Your employer is then required to notify their workers’ comp insurer and the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA) within 10 days of learning of your injury.
- File a claim. You will need to file a claim with the ICA within 1 year of the date of the accident.
- Contact an attorney. If you need help navigating the filing process or your claim is denied, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to protect your rights.
Preventing whiplash in the workplace
Employers and employees can take actionable steps to prevent workplace accidents. Employers should create and enforce extensive and effective safety procedures in the workplace. Employees should always prioritize their own safety and well-being by doing the following:
- Familiarize yourself with and follow all workplace safety rules.
- Exercise caution when climbing ladders, working on elevated or slippery surfaces, and operating equipment.
- Follow all traffic laws and posted signs.
- Exercise caution when driving a work vehicle or forklift.
- Wear all appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Use proper lifting techniques when lifting or loading heavy items.
- When possible, use ergonomic equipment, such as adjustable chairs or standing desks, to help maintain proper posture and reduce the risk of injury.
Contact an Arizona workers’ compensation attorney
Workers’ compensation claims can be complicated, and unfortunately, legitimate claims get denied every single day. It’s crucial to understand that if your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can gather evidence and negotiate with your employer and their insurance company so you can focus on your recovery.
If you live in Arizona and have suffered a whiplash injury at work, our Phoenix work injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski are here to help. We specialize in workers’ comp cases and are proud to have been helping injured Arizona workers recover the compensation they deserve for more than 45 years.