Not all shoulder injuries are created equal. The most common one (or at least the most common I see in everyday practice) is the rotator cuff tear. When people tear their rotator cuff, they usually tear one of several distinct parts: supraspinatus tendon, infraspinatus tendon, teres minor, subscapularis tendon, glenoid labrum or biceps tendon. There are several muscles that come together that can get torn too, but those tendons are the ones we see often.
So what happens with a rotator cuff injury? Typically there will be a x-ray, which doesn’t usually show a tear (or lack thereof). If an orthopedic surgeon suspects a tear, he/she will usually try physical therapy, injections, ice, heat, or anything short of surgery that may reduce the inflammation and make the pain go away. A doctor may also order an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. (Even MRIs aren’t perfect when it comes to diagnosing rotator cuff tears – but they are pretty good). Your surgeon may also do an MRI or CT scan of the neck to to rule out potential cervical pathology (because it’s sometimes difficult to tell if pain is coming from the shoulder itself or radiating from a disc problem in the neck, for example).
If surgery is the proper option, the most common method is arthroscopic – meaning that the surgeon will place small holes in your shoulder, look through one hole with an instrument called an arthroscope, and fix the shoulder with other instruments in the other holes. Of course, not all shoulder injuries are the same and not every procedure is the same – so ideally you should talk to your doctor. Ideally? Always.
Anyway, there is usually physical therapy after surgery, which can last several weeks.
So how much is a shoulder injury worth?
Frankly, they vary too much to get into. Really, each one is different. But here are the basics:
A shoulder is part of the arm. In other words, most shoulder injuries will be compensated as a percentage of an arm, or a percentage of 253 weeks. To use a hypothetical, let’s say you make $1000 a week. Your PPD rate (what’s that? I discuss it a little here) would be $600. I just use these numbers because the math is easy – your PPD rate will probably be different. If an arbitrator awarded you 20% of an arm, your case would be worth 253 x 20% = 50.6 weeks x $600 = $30,360.
What determines the percentage? Some of the things typically considered include:
1. Whether the tear was a partial thickness or full thickness
2. What part of the shoulder was injured
3. Whether surgery was needed
4. How the patient healed after surgery
5. How the person was able to return to work after surgery
6. Whether there were any complications (ie pulmonary embolism) or restrictions
And, as always,
7. Your income in the 52 weeks before the accident.
A good workers comp attorney can work to maximize the percentage and hopefully make sure you get the right medical treatment to return to work.
Keep in mind that not every shoulder case is handled the way I’ve described above. Also, there might be more money available if someone other than your employer or a fellow employee was at fault (a car accident case, for example). Certainly every case is different, and this is not a substitute for legal advice. If you want to know more about what your case might be worth, contact an Illinois workers comp lawyer.
(Howard Zimmerle is a workers comp lawyer in Rock Island Illinois. You can contact him at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com)