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15-08-2011 | Legal medicine | Article

Negative impact of back injury worsens after claim settlement


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MedWire News: US researchers report that individuals who sustain back injuries at work experience financial and domestic problems that progressively worsen after receipt of a monetary settlement.

This occurrence is particularly common among young adults and people of African-American origin, say Raymond Tait and John Chibnall, from Saint Louis University in Missouri.

"Regardless of the settlement that you receive, if you continue to experience pain, our findings indicate you will often get worse over time - worse in ways that can lead to the loss of a home, lead to family disruptions, and even lead to divorce," said Tait.

The researchers analyzed the pre- and post-settlement court records of 1472 individuals who claimed worker's compensation (WC) for a work-related back injury.

Of these, 580 were African-American and 892 were non-Hispanic White. The records reflected major life disruptions resulting in legal proceedings, such as divorce or eviction, experienced by these individuals during the 5 years before and after the settlement of their compensation claims.

"These kinds of judicial activities are not trivial, but reflect substantial problems in order to find their way into court," explained Tait.

As reported in the journal Spine, 56% of the participants had no record of study-relevant legal activity in the Missouri court system over the study period. Of the 44% with evidence of judicial activity, individuals younger than 35 years had more finance-related legal cases than those aged 35 years or older.

Specifically, individuals aged less than 35 years had three times more financial legal cases than those aged 35-55, and five times more cases than those older than 55 years.

Furthermore, African-Americans experienced more financial and domestic legal problems than non-Hispanic Whites over the study period.

Irrespective of age and race, study participants had a greater frequency of judicial activity after their back pain settlements. For example, 3.6% of the participants had residence-related legal problems before their settlements, but this figure rose to 7.3% after settlement. Similarly, 12.9% of participants had general finance-related legal cases before receiving their settlement and this figure rose to 20.1% after settlement.

Tait and Chibnall conclude: "Given the high personal and societal costs implicit in these data, as well as their medico-legal implications, the current mechanisms that inform the administration of WC systems clearly merit further attention."

By Lauretta Ihonor

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