Rotator CuffCompensation Claims

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles in the shoulder and their associated tendons. Its role is to facilitate movement of the shoulder joint and keep it stable.


The shoulder
The bones that make up the shoulder are the scapula (shoulder blade), the clavicle (collarbone) and the humerus (upper arm bone).

The shoulder or glenohumeral joint is a 'ball and socket' joint, like the hip. The rounded top end of the humerus forms the ball, while the socket is a cavity called the glenoid, located on the scapula.

This configuration allows for a wide range of movement, but not much stability, especially because the socket part of the joint, on the scapula, is shallow. Without the carefully balanced stabilisation from muscles and connective tissue, shoulder injuries would be far more common than they are.

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Anatomy of the rotator cuffThe rotator cuff comprises of four muscles:

- The subscapularis
- The infraspinatus
- The supraspinatus
- The teres minor

Put very simply, the supraspinatus is involved in raising the arm along with the deltoid muscle, and the other muscles are involved in the internal (medial) or external (lateral) rotation of the arm.

The muscles connect to the shoulderblade and arm bone with tendons. The tendons cover the head of the arm bone and keep it in place in the shoulder.
Movement and stability
The shoulder muscles and associated tendons allow for movement in the shoulder while providing stability.

There is a fluid-filled sac or 'bursa' between the tendons forming the rotator cuff and the top of the shoulder blade. This allows the tendons to move freely.

Shoulder injuries
The shoulder joint has regularly moving parts, and some stability is sacrificed to allow for the range of motion required. The downside to this is that both features leave the shoulder susceptible to injury.

Common shoulder injuries include:
- A torn rotator cuff tendon
- Tendonitis
- Shoulder impingement syndrome
- Bursitis, or inflammation in the fluid-filled sac protecting the tendons in the shoulder

Symptoms can be as minor as shoulder pain that can be treated with paracetamol. Worse shoulder pain my require painkillers combined with anti-inflammatory medication and corticosteroid injections and may cause difficulty sleeping, especially on the injured side.

Other shoulder injury symptoms include:
- Weakness
- Numbness or tingling in the arm below the shoulder injury
- Restricted movement in the shoulder joint

In cases of more serious injuries, one of the shoulder tendons may become torn. Rotator cuff tears are described as either a full thickness or complete tear, or an incomplete or partial tear.

Most shoulder injuries can be treated and will improve with rest and physiotherapy. In more severe cases, such as a complete rotator cuff tear, shoulder surgery may be required.
Rotator Cuff Compensation Claim Types

You may be entitled to claim compensation for shoulder injuries in a number of circumstances. Some common scenarios in which compensation payouts are awarded for shoulder injuries include:
- workplace injury, or injury caused by work (both are covered by the workers compensation scheme)
- shoulder injury during a motor vehicle or car accident
- shoulder injury caused by a slip, trip or fall

Rotator Cuff Injury at Work
There are several mechanisms by which a shoulder injury might occur in the workplace or as a result of the work you do. Safework Australia reports that in 2019-2020, for injuries resulting in serious workers compensation claims:
- 13% involved the neck or shoulder
- 38% resulted from traumatic joint, ligament, muscle or tendon injury
- 18% arose from musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases

In Queensland in 2019-20, over 4,000 people sought to claim workers compensation for strains or sprains to the shoulder.

Repetitive strain
Shoulder injuries from repetitive strain or stress are usually caused by performing tasks of a repetitive nature, especially for prolonged periods. Tasks that involve a repetitive motion can also cause this type of shoulder injury, especially if a worker is required to do them while in an awkward position, or too quickly.

A workplace shoulder injury caused by repetitive stress will usually be in the form of:
- inflammation of the tendon, or tendonitis
- swelling in the bursa or bursitis, also known as shoulder impingement syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome can occur from bone spurs forming on the acromion bone in the shoulder. During arm lifting movements, this causes bone to rub on the tendons in the shoulder, leading to swelling, pain and damage to the tendon. Jobs where repetitive arm lifting movements or overhead work are required are therefore more susceptible to this syndrome.

Overloading
A rotator cuff tear can occur due to overloading the shoulder joint, for example by lifting a heavy object. This can be a single incident, or preceded by weakening of the shoulder structures through repetitive strain, or ordinary wear and tear that happens with aging. Interestingly, degeneration or damage in one shoulder increases the risk of tears of the tendons in both shoulders.

Impact
The shoulder tendons can also be torn during an impact, for example where the shoulder hits or is hit by, an object or piece of machinery (as well as in a fall or motor vehicle collision). Tears of this type can be caused or accompanied by damage to a bony structure in the shoulder, like a broken bone or fracture, or a shoulder dislocation.
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Rotator Cuff Injury Due to a Motor Vehicle Accident
A report by the Australian Instititue of Health and Wellness (AIHW) found that transport accidents led to 63,900 hospitalisations and 1,400 deaths in 2018-19.

It further reported that 21% of the hospitalisations involved arm or shoulder injury.

As with any shoulder injury due to impact, a rotator cuff tear caused by the shoulder hitting or being hit by the road, part of a vehicle or debris during a car accident, may be accompanied by a broken bone, fracture or dislocation.

Additionally, the forces involved in a motor vehicle accident can lead to the tendons or muscles in the shoulder being stretched and torn.

Talk with an experienced motor vehicle accident lawyer for more information.
Rotator Cuff Injury Caused by Slip and Fall
Shoulder injury from a slip and fall can occur at work or in personal or recreational activities, like sport.

The AIHW reports that in 2018-19 falls resulted in 231,000 hospitalisations, and 23% of those involved injury to the shoulder or arm.

According to SafeWork Australia, 23% of workplace injuries that led to serious workers compensation claims were cause by trips, slips and falls.

The mechanism by which the shoulder is injured in a fall can be as simple as landing on an outstretched arm.
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What Evidence is Required to Make a Rotator Cuff Workers Compensation Claim?
Like all personal injury claims, workers compensation claims for shoulder injuries require several types of evidence. A solicitor experienced in shoulder injury claims can provide specific advice in your case. As a general guide though, injured workers wanting to claim compensation for a shoulder injury will need evidence proving:

- How the injury developed
- The injury symptoms
- Treatment that has been provided and what will be needed in the future
- Long term impacts of the injury, and the prognosis, or how likely they are to recover fully or partially
- Medical costs, including fees for doctors and specialists, hospitalisation costs, medicines, and likely future costs of rehabilitation
- The worker's usual income and projected future earning capacity
- The amount of pain and suffering endured by the worker
Is There a Time Limit For Making a Rotator Cuff Compensation Claim?
Yes, there are strict time limits to make personal injury claims, whether you make a statutory (WorkCover) or Common Law claim.

WorkCover claimsA claim must be made to WorkCover or a self-insurer within 6 months from when the injury occurred or when your injury is first linked to your workplace duties by a doctor.

Common Law claimsMost shoulder injury compensation claims will be based on a claim of negligence. Very basically, a negligence claim is available when a person or organisation that owes you a legal duty to care for your safety and wellbeing fails to do so to a reasonable standard, and you suffer injury as a result.

Generally speaking, in negligence claims you are required to commence a claim with the court within 3 years of the injury occurring. Before lodging a court claim there may be certain steps you must take under the law to notify the person you are claiming against that you intend to make a claim.
These time limits can be relatively straightforward to work out if your injury is caused by a single incident. However, a shoulder injury can develop over time, which might affect when you need to lodge your claim.

It's also important to remember that getting ready to lodge a claim for compensation takes time. Your lawyer will need to obtain and consider medical evidence, financial information, details of your employer and employment and other important material.

Obviously, the first step after an injury is to get the right treatment. However, you might also consider speaking to personal injury lawyers early to preserve your rights to claim compensation. We offer a free consultation for any potential case, where we can discuss the claims process, including time limits to start your claim. If you decide to proceed, we will ensure your shoulder injury claim is progressed efficiently and doesn't miss any deadlines.
How Long do Rotator Cuff Settlements Usually Take?
Queensland workers compensation statistics show that it takes, on average, just under one year from the date of lodgement to the date of finalisation for Common Law claims. The time may be longer for non-work related injuries, as establishing negligence can be more complicated in these claims.

The length of time it takes to resolve your shoulder injury compensation claim will depend on whether or not you can reach a settlement with your employer or the negligent party, or more precisely, their insurance company, as an insurer will usually be the ones making the compensation payouts. If you can, it will mean you get your compensation payment much more quickly than if your case has to go to a trial or hearing in court. Whether or not a settlement can be reached often depends on the strength of the evidence in the case and the experience, knowledge and negotiation skills of your representative.

Statutory claims with WorkCover or a workers compensation insurer are usually decided much more quickly, sometimes less than 20 days after lodging the claim, if they are given all the right information. This allows you to start getting WorkCover payouts for some of your lost wages and medical expenses to help in your recovery. Seeing a lawyer early about a no win no fee claim means you start receiving payments while you consider all your claim options, including a Common Law claim.

What are The Average Payouts for Rotator Cuff Injury Claims?
Shoulder injuries can range widely in severity. Some can be managed with simple first aid, rest and painkillers. The most serious need surgery.

To determine how much compensation you are entitled to, WorkCover or a court will look at many factors including:

- The seriousness of the injury
- the physical impact of the injury, for example, whether it restricts your movement
- Whether you are likely to recover fully or continue to be affected permanently - the extent to which you're permanently affected is called the "degree of permanent impairment" or DPI
- Whether you can return to work and do your normal work duties, need to take a significant period off work to recover, or need to change jobs altogether
- If your ability to work and earning capacity will be affected in the future, and by how much
- Your medical bills such as fees for consulting your doctor, or having shoulder surgery
- The likely cost of ongoing medical assessments, treatment and rehabilitation, medicine and physical aids
- Lost wages or self-employment income
- An additional amount for pain and suffering, called general damages, which is set by law

Given all these factors, it's difficult to give an average figure that would be helpful to you in trying to understand the type of compensation payout you might receive in a shoulder injury claim.

For example, a shoulder injury compensation claim for a minor injury where you can return to your normal work duties fairly quickly, and have few medical costs, might amount to less than $20,000. This is because the general damages figure for minor shoulder injuries is often under $10,000.

But a very serious injury, like one involving a full thickness tear that causes a significant DPI, would likely lead to a much larger shoulder compensation payout. The general damages for this type of shoulder injury would probably be over $150,000.

As a specific example, in a 2021 case involving an accident at work, the injured worker suffered shoulder injuries requiring surgery. The workers compensation payout in that case exceeded $480,000.
Lodge A "No Win No Fee" Claim
If you suffer injuries while at work, you don't have to worry about the whole process of making your claim or the legal fees involved. Here at Smith's Lawyers, we offer free consultation services for injured workers looking to kickstart their claims. As mentioned before, we also have a no-win no fee, no catch policy.
Get in touch with us to give yourself the best opportunity to receive the maximum compensation possible for your claim.
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