Shouldering the Load (A Primer on Rotator Cuff Injuries)

Muscles of shoulder and arm

If you have read my blog posts over the years, you surely have come across at least a few posts having to do with a rotator cuff injury (and if you read the last few, you were introduced to a similar injury to the labrum, known as a SLAP tear).

Why are they so common and what causes them? What are the challenges in returning to work for someone who injures his or her rotator cuff while working?

A Fall on Ice, Some Broken Ribs, No Major Injury Apparent. But wait…

My client Craig was a healthy and fit man in his 60s. While he was technically a supervisor in his job, he regularly jumped in to help his co-workers, which required him to lift weight well over 100 pounds, often overhead, repeatedly throughout his workday. Despite his age, he had no problems doing the lifting. He was proud of his workout routine outside of work, which kept him strong and able to perform tasks many younger people could not.

One day in November of 2018, he slipped on ice in his employer’s parking lot on the way to open the shop at 4:30 a.m. It was dark and he didn’t see the ice in the lot, which had been plowed but not salted.

At the emergency room, he indicated that he fell on his outstretched left arm and left side. X-rays confirmed that he fractured a few ribs. But until he started in physical therapy, it was not apparent that he also injured his rotator cuff. An MRI showed a full thickness tear. Craig underwent surgery.

Rotator Cuff Injuries 101

Your rotator cuff is made up of four separate muscles that connect the shoulder capsule to the rest of the body. The best way to remember them is “SITS”: From front to back, they are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. The biceps tendon is often damaged as well in a rotator cuff injury.

The supraspinatus connects your humerus (upper arm bone) and holds it in place. The infraspinatus lets you rotate and extend your shoulder (like reaching). The teres minor also factors into rotation of the joint, while the subscapularis controls inward rotation.

The most common injury, which occurred in this case, involves the tearing of the supraspinatus. Often and also in this case, there is an impingement of the bones in the AC (acromioclavicular) joint that must be filed down during surgery.

In many ways, Craig’s injury was typical, in that it involved a tear to the supraspinatus, a lesser tear to the biceps tendon, and an impingement within the joint. All three issues were addressed surgically.

Is the claim for workers’ comp or personal injury? Initially, we evaluated the possibility Craig might have both a workers’ compensation case against his employer (who owned the lot) as well as a personal injury negligence case against the snow removal contractor for poor removal of snow and ice.

The latter claim became difficult to prove, as snow and ice cases are very difficult (as explained in previous blogs). With Craig’s full participation in the decision, we decided to go with just a workers’ compensation claim.

How Recovered is Recovered?

Craig’s recovery became a key issue. He improved to where he could lift 80 pounds over his head, which is truly impressive. But how impressive improvement is depends on what your job requires.

In Craig’s case, his job requirement on paper was that of a supervisor, which made being able to lift 80 pounds more than adequate to perform his job. But in reality, since he routinely helped his workers lift items, he needed to perform that feat dozens of times daily, which he did without issue previously. The problem came down to a matter of evidentiary testimony. Depending on whom the arbitrator believed, we could win or lose on that point. It was a risk we ultimately decided to avoid by settling.

Craig’s recovery was good, considering the type of injury. He still has pain and is contemplating another surgery to alleviate it. We made the decision to end the case for a significant sum of money, rather than risk not being able to prove that another surgery was necessary and possibly having to wait a year or more to finalize the case.

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, immediately get medical treatment and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as premises liability or workers’ compensation.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.