March 25, 2020
Cumulative injury coverage under workers' compensation
Some work injuries don’t occur at a specific time, but rather they are the result of a degenerative process that takes place over months or years. These are known as repetitive-motion or cumulative injuries.
In Minnesota, they are called "Gillette" injuries, a term that comes from the 1960 Minnesota Supreme Court case of Gillette v. Harold, Inc.
The Gillette case involved an employee who worked as a sales clerk at Harold Department Store. She underwent surgery on her left big toe for a condition that wasn't work-related. Two months after the surgery, she returned to work and was performing all of her regular duties, which required her to be on her feet most of the day. As time went by, she experienced increasing pain in her right toe. Eventually her doctor said she couldn't work because the prolonged walking and standing her job required was aggravating her toe. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the employee had sustained an injury that was compensable and defined a Gillette injury as, "a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment as a result of the cumulative effect of repetitive minute trauma over a period of time."
Deciding whether a compensable cumulative injury has occurred
To determine whether a Gillette injury has occurred, the court looks at:
- The employee's specific work activity.
- How that work activity affects the employee.
- The symptoms the employee experienced in doing the work over and over.
- The physician's opinion as to whether the employee's work activity was a substantial contributing factor to his or her injury.
Determining the date of injury
Even though a cumulative injury isn't the result of a specific incident, determining a date of injury is still required. The date of injury is significant because it is typically the insurer covering the employer at the date of injury that is responsible for providing workers' compensation benefits. The general rule holds that a Gillette injury has not occurred or "culminated" until the employee has either lost time from work, required a change of duties because of his or her physical condition or sought medical treatment. There are frequent exceptions to this rule depending on the facts of each individual case.
For more information on Gillette injuries, download the following SFM resources:
- Cumulative (Gillette) injuries Legal Advisory
- Repetitive stress injuries CompTalk and safety quiz
- Repetitive motion injuries – Office 5-minute solution
This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.