Lawyers for injured workers should strike the phrase “light duty” from their vocabulary

Language matters in litigation. One term that is misused by workers compensation lawyers is the term “light duty”. Often times injured workers are re-assigned to different jobs that fit within doctor-given work restrictions. One common fact pattern I run into is an injured meat packing worker who has restrictions to one arm or hand, but no restrictions with their other arm or hand.  Workers are commonly re-assigned to “light duty” jobs where they overuse their non-injured arm and then sustain an overuse injury on the other arm or wrist.

Any job that leads to an overuse injury should not be termed a light duty job.  When I hear the term “light duty” in a workers compensation trial or deposition,  I always object on the basis of form and foundation.  In other words the term “light duty” is misleading and not supported by the facts. Usually my objection is sustained or opposing counsel stops using the term “light duty.” Objecting to the term light duty reminds a trial judge or ALJ how bi-lateral hand and arm injuries can develop from single member injuries.

The problem of overuse injuries developing by overcompensating for an injured arm or hand arises from myopic reading of doctor’s restrictions by nurse case managers and company nurses.  Advocates for injured workers should seek comprehensive work restrictions for single hand or arm injuries. For example if a worker has  a five pound lifting restriction for their right arm, the employee advocate should seek to get overall lifting restrictions for both arms even if there are no current problems for the other arm.  Smart employers would have an interest in getting comprehensive lifting restrictions for single hand and arm injuries as they risk being held liable for a bi-lateral member injury stemming from overuse. In the long run, bi-lateral injuries lead to more medical, disability and litigation expense for employees and employers alike.

 

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