For a work accident, what is the difference between a traumatic or occupational workers compensation injury? To receive worker’s compensation benefits, an employee must sustain an injury, defined in Wis. Stat. Sec. 102.01(2)(c) as “mental or physical harm to an employee caused by accident or disease … .” Theoretically, a traumatic injury is a one time acute work-related incident which results in an injury or condition requiring medical treatment and allowing for disability benefits. On the other hand, an occupational injury is a work-related injury or condition that develops over time from job duties or an exposure to conditions at work. However, the lines between the two types of legal causation for a worker’s compensation claim can be blurred. For example, a worker may have many, unreported traumatic incidents over time, each of which seriously bothered his low back, but he self-treated or self-limited and kept on working until he could not any longer.

An traumatic accident is “a fortuitous event, unexpected and unforeseen by the injured person.” John H. Kaiser Lumber Co. v. Indus. Comm’n, 181 Wis. 513, 513, 195 N.W. 329 (1923) . The traumatic accident is established “either if the cause was of an accidental character or if the effect was the unexpected result of routine performance of the claimant’s duties.” Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. DILHR, 62 Wis. 2d 370, 375, 215 N.W.2d 373 (1974).

The Wisconsin supreme court has long used a liberal construction defining work-related. See Severson v. Indus. Comm’n, 221 Wis. 169, 175, 266 N.W. 235 (1936) “The Workman’s Compensation Act must be liberally construed in favor of including all service that can in any sense be said to reasonably come within it.” Brienen v. Pub. Serv. Co., 166 Wis. 24, 27, 163 N.W. 182 (1917). Once an employee gets to work, there is a presumption that he is working, unless some appears to the contrary. Tewes v. Indus. Comm’n, 194 Wis. 489, 494, 215 N.W. 898 (1927).

An occupational disease is mental or physical injury or condition that results from occupational exposure but is not so sudden or traumatic as to fit within the definition of an accident. Occupational exposure generally means repetitive job duties as in the case of a low back injury. But it can also literally mean exposure to a work environment that causes injury, such as being around asbestos which may cause asbestosis or mesothelioma. Wisconsin does not list or exclude any particular medical condition from occupational disease causation cases.

McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin reviews medical records to determine if a traumatic or occupational work accident is best in each individual claim.