Truck driving is one of the most dangerous occupations in the US, and that danger is not limited to traffic accidents. Drivers face a variety of occupational health risks including prolonged or aggravated pain in the back, neck, knees, and shoulders.
The occupational demands placed on truckers increases the risk of these conditions. Because truck drivers tend to sit and stay stationary for hours on end, various conditions such as degenerative disc disease can develop over time.
In some cases, it is possible to file a workers’ compensation claim. However, workers’ comp for truck drivers can be more complex than it appears on the surface.
Truck Drivers and Back Pain
Because truck drivers stay seated for long periods of time, back pain is among the most common injury risks they face. Even with good posture, regular stretching, or the use of ergonomic seat cushions, non-stop driving can contribute to pressure on the spinal column and spinal discs in the lower back.
This can lead to degenerative disc disease, a medical condition caused by damaged discs in the spine. Truck drivers are especially susceptible to this condition as long hours on the road can leave the spine vulnerable to discs that slip, rupture, tear, or herniate.
Truck Drivers and Knee Pain
Knee pain experienced by truck drivers can be caused by the repetitive motions of operating the clutch and gas pedals, loading and unloading, along with climbing in and out of a tall vehicle and jumping off trailers.
Patellar tendonitis is particularly common nerve condition that affects drivers. Although massages and routine stretching can help alleviate truck drivers’ knee pain temporarily, medical attention is likely necessary if the condition persists.
Truck Drivers’ Neck Pain
Truck drivers experience neck pain due to some of the same working conditions caused by back pain, such as poor posture, for example, and long hours in a seated position.
Stretching exercises can alleviate this condition if it is not serious. However, similar to knee or joint pain, medical attention will become necessary over time.
Shoulder Pain Experienced by Truck Drivers
Should pain is so common for truck drivers that it merits a shorthand name. As such, “trucker shoulder” broadly refers to repetitive stress injuries caused by entering and exiting a truck, tarping, chaining, loading and unloading. Symptoms include joint inflammation, bursitis, shoulder dislocation and disabling shoulder pain.
Workers’ Compensation for Truck Drivers
Some of these conditions can be temporarily remedied. However, as truck drivers spend years on the job, these problems can become aggravated. In fact, there are drivers who actually become partially or completely disabled as a result of these conditions.
If you become disabled due to working conditions and you are an employee of a trucking company, your company is required by law to provide you with workers’ compensation.
Workers’ compensation benefits for truck drivers include:
- Wage loss benefits: Although these benefits apply only if you miss more than seven days of work. If you miss more than 14 days, you will be paid for the entire 14 days off; and longer if necessary. In principle, your disability benefits will be two-thirds of your average weekly pay before you became disabled, but they are subject to a maximum. This maximum is $1,049 per week as of 2019. The minimum benefit is the lesser of 50 percent of the Pennsylvania average weekly wage or 90 percent of your own weekly wage.
- Medical expenses. Workers’ compensation will pay for your reasonable, necessary and authorized medical expenses, as long as they arise from your injury.
- Mileage reimbursement is available for travel to and from doctors’ appointments.
- Vocational rehabilitation is available if your injury prevents you from returning to work.
Although benefits are generally paid weekly, you may also have the option of receiving a lump sum payment.
If you can work, but your pay is limited due to your disability (you can only work part-time, for example), you will be considered partially disabled.
Partial disability benefits amount to two-thirds as well; not two-thirds of your former pay but two-thirds of the amount of pay that you are losing. Beyond that, the same minimum and maximum apply.
Are You an Employee or an Independent Contractor?
If you are classified as an independent contractor rather than an employee, you won’t be able to win a workers’ comp claim against the trucking company you work for (although it may be possible to win a personal injury lawsuit).
Nevertheless, if your company classifies you as an independent contractor, keep this in mind; many companies misclassify drivers who are technically full-time employees as independent contractors so that they can avoid all kinds of liabilities that include:
- Unemployment compensation benefits;
- Civil liability for any negligent acts that you commit (causing a traffic accident, for example); and, most importantly,
- Workers’ compensation benefits.
The Legal Distinction Between Employees and Independent Contractors
Whether you are an employee or an independent contractor is a matter of Pennsylvania law, regardless of how your company classifies you. The legal factors that will make the difference include (but are not limited to):
- Whether you or your company supplies your work tools and equipment;
- The terms of your contractual relationship with the company;
- Whether you are paid by the job or at certain intervals (a monthly salary, for example);
- Whether the company deducts taxes from your pay; and
- If your company provided on-the-job training.
Since there is no simple answer to this question (ultimately, it is a judgment call), the assistance of a workers’ comp attorney can be critical to collecting benefits for your claim.
Get a Free Consultation With Our Workers’ Comp Attorneys
If you are a truck driver who has suffered from degenerative disc disease, trucker shoulder, or other repetitive motion injuries, contact the experienced workers’ compensation lawyers at Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo for a free consultation.