Lost-time injuries may be followed by more claims

Workers who return to work after a lost-time injury are more than twice as likely to file another workers’ compensation claim for a subsequent injury than other workers at the same company, according to a study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI).

The study reported that 34,000 of the 107,000 workers in Wisconsin who filed compensable lost-time claims in 1989 or 1990 (32%) filed at least one more claim by the end of 1993.

Lost-time claims may have far-reaching consequences, says Richard Victor, MD, executive director of Cambridge, MA-based WCRI.

Costs are a concern to all segments

"For injured workers, there is the increased risk of future injuries," he says. "For employers and insurers cost is also an issue, as they need to recognize that the complete cost of an injury includes the increased potential for subsequent claims. And both worker safety and system costs are critical concerns for public policy-makers."

Contrary to conventional wisdom, returning to the same employer often was associated with a greater likelihood of a second claim. Workers who stayed with the first-claim employer were as much as 26% more likely to file a second claim than workers who later worked for a new employer.

Regardless of the part of the body affected by the initial injury, second claims were made for back injuries more often than for any other injury. The study reported other results more in line with conventional wisdom:

• Blue-collar workers, younger workers, and those with less job tenure filed subsequent claims more often.

• Workers in companies with high claim rates were more likely to file a second claim.

• Workers with sprains, strains, and bruises had higher second-claim rates.

The WCRI is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit membership organization conducting public policy research on workers’ compensation, health care concerns, and disability issues. Its members include employers, insurers, governmental entities, insurance regulators and state regulatory agencies, as well as several state labor organizations.