What is a Cumulative Trauma Injury?
A cumulative trauma injury is an injury that is caused by repeated events or repeated exposures at work. For example, hurting your wrist by doing the same motion over and over, or losing your hearing because of constant loud noise.
Post-Termination Cumulative Trauma Injury Claims
Generally, an employee cannot file a claim after termination, even if the injury occurred prior to notice of the termination. However, there are multiple exceptions to this general rule.
In cases of cumulative trauma injuries, Labor Code section 3600(a)(10)(D) provides an exception to this general rule. To qualify for this exception, the employee must show that the date of injury occurred after termination or layoff. The date of injury is defined by Labor Code section 5412 to occur when the employee (1) first suffers disability from the injury, AND (2) knows or should have known that the disability was caused by the employment. This exception applies where an employee suffers a work-related cumulative trauma injury, but only discovers that the injury is work-related after being fired.
In recently applying Labor Code section 3600(a)(10)(D), the court of appeal held in County of Riverside v. Worker’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 119, that a former Deputy Sheriff did not know, and could not have reasonably known, that the cumulative trauma injuries he suffered were industrially caused until his doctor told him that his symptoms were industrially related, and therefore the statute of limitations for workers’ compensation claim did not begin to run until that time. Also, in City of Fresno v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals. Bd. (1985) 163 Cal.App.3d 467, despite the employee's expression of belief that his employment caused his injury, the court of appeal held that the applicant could not have reasonably known that his injury was work-related because he did not have expert training or qualifications to recognize the relationship between the known adverse factors involved in his employment and his injury. Thus, the court held that the applicant’s one-year limitation period to file a claim began with the city’s denial of benefits letter, and the applicant’s claim, filed within a year of the letter, was timely.