In Minnesota under the Workers’ Compensation Act the legislature recognizes numerous types of work injuries including specific injuries, Gillette injuries, occupational diseases, and consequential injuries. The case Gillette v. Harold, Inc. established that injuries caused by repetitive minute trauma brought about by the performance of ordinary job duties is compensable under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. (257 Minn. 313 (1960).) These types of injuries may be thought of generally as “wear and tear” injuries or repetitive motion injuries that are cumulative in a larger injury.
At Meuser Law Office, P.A. we frequently see law enforcement officers with Gillette low back injuries. While conducting patrol, police officers and deputy sheriffs wear duty belts that press up against his or her low back during a shift. The duty belt may weigh anywhere from 15 – 20 pounds and make handgun, handcuffs, flashlights, gloves, baton, radio, pepper spray, among other tools instantly accessible to officers. Additionally, officers may also have to wear a protective vest that puts additional strain on his or her back. Studies have shown that the equipment’s weight, the placement against the officer’s body, and the force exerted on the equipment when the officer is seated inside his or her squad car factor the amount of pain an officer suffers from wearing a duty belt.* Police officers and deputy sheriffs wear these heavy belts when entering and exiting squad cars, arresting or chasing non-compliant suspects, and when lifting patients into emergency vehicles. Officers conducting patrol duties in squad cars also face additional strain and pressure on his or her low back.
Over time, the everyday wear and tear on an officer’s low back due to his or her duty belt coupled with an officer’s normal job duties can cause serious disc issues in the officer’s lumbar spine. If the discs are damaged and further deteriorate, surgical intervention may be required in the future. If you are experiencing low back pain which you believe may be work-related, it is imperative you seek medical attention immediately and report your possible injury to your employer.
If the duty belt exacerbates an underlying non-work related injury, you may still have a compensable work injury. The Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act does not require that the work-related injury be the sole cause of a disabling condition. The law only requires that the work injury be a substantial contributing cause or fact to the employee’s condition. Swanson v. Medtronics, 443 N.W.2d 534 (1989). An injury is compensable when an injury aggravates or accelerates a pre-existing condition. Wallace v. Hanson Silo Co., 235 N.W.2d 363 (Minn. 1975). So, while an officer may have had a prior low back injury from a motor vehicle collision, if the duties such as wearing a duty belt, entering and existing a squad car, among other patrol duties substantially aggravates or accelerates disc degeneration in his or her lumbar spine, then the injury may be compensable. In order to determine if the new injury is compensable the judge will consider:
• The nature and severity of the pre-existing condition and the extent of restrictions and disability resulting there from
• The nature of the symptoms and extent of medical treatment prior to the aggravating incident
• The nature and severity of the aggravating incident and the extent of the restrictions and disability resulting there from
• The nature of the symptoms and the extent of medical treatment following the aggravating incident
• The nature and extent of the employee’s work duties and non-work activities during the relevant period
• Medical opinions on the issue. McClellan v. Up North Plastics, slip. op. (W.C.C.A. October 18, 1994)
If you are a Minnesota police officer with a low back injury you believe was incurred from work duties, contact the experienced attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. immediately for a free, no-obligation case review. At Meuser Law Office, P.A. we have represented hundreds of police officers with low back injuries and have successfully been awarded PERA Duty Disability benefits, Health Care Continuation benefits under Minnesota Statute 299A.465, and workers’ compensation wage loss benefits and medical treatment. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.
* Ergonomics and Safety in Law Enforcement, by Fabrice Czarnecki and Ira Janowitz, 2003.