The immediate effects of an electrical injury are usually quite evident. They frequently include, but are not limited to, seizures, burns, arrhythmia and various kinds of motor impairment. Workers may receive medical treatment for these obvious injuries only to discover in the months and years to come that previously undetected damage has also occurred.
Evidence that many effects of an electrical injury are not immediately known suggests that injured workers exercise caution when dealing with both the medical and legal implications of their injuries.
Research into Long-term Injury
The long-term and difficult-to-diagnose effects of electrocution are very real and concerning. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cites a study by Wesner and Hickie that looks at 24 case studies of injuries resulting from electrocution, including certain workplace injuries. In conducting their research, they discovered that delayed adverse effects of electrocution are quite common.
They also found that successfully linking an electrical injury to these long-term effects may prove challenging. They assert that “The appearance of non-resolving, non-path-related symptoms following electrical injury is a scientific puzzle.”
Possible Long-term Effects of Electrocution
Here are some of the long-term effects of electrical injury discussed by the researchers:
Neurological – Damage to nerves at the point where the electrical current enters the body is common. However, although electrical injury causes direct damage to nerves, such damage is not always easy to detect. Frequent reports of falls and general unsteadiness following electrical injury are possibly explained by neurological damage.
Neuropsychological – Certain electrical injuries induce memory difficulties and changes in attention span. Victims have also experienced anger, irritability, frustration and aggressive conduct even though they did not exhibit such traits before the electric injury.
The researchers suggest that victims of electrical injury often exhibit symptoms commonly associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Because of this, they stress the need to conduct a “comprehensive neuropsychological assessment to validate brain injury associated with electrical injury.”
Depression and PTSD – Electrical injuries that feature involuntary muscle contraction appear to result in depression and PTSD with greater frequency. Those that lose consciousness or experience amnesia appear more prone to depression and PTSD.
Ocular injuries – In some instances, eye damage appears well after the electrocution. Studies indicate that as many as six percent of electrical injury victims will develop cataracts within one year. Another six percent will develop cataracts within three years. However, cataract development does not seem to occur in those subjected to less than 200 volts.
Unresolved pain – Victims of electrical injury often report pain levels that exceed that which is expected based upon the observable neurological damage. Many experience lasting pain that is not relieved by standard treatments.
In general, electrical current may cause diffused symptoms in areas of the body not directly in the theoretical path of the current. Long-term effects, though diffuse, may tangibly impact a worker’s ability to effectively function at work, to fully enjoy family life and to be active in the community.
The study concludes that, for a variety of reasons, it is not always possible to fully understand the damage caused by electrocution for months or years. The researchers also found that electrical injuries are often more difficult for workers to overcome than other thermal or burn injuries. They assert that, “many who suffer electrical injury have considerable difficulty returning to work.”
If you or a loved one suffers an electrocution injury at work, it is possible to discuss the legal implications with a workers compensation lawyer focused on relevant aspects of workers compensation and personal injury law. Our firm fights hard to protect the full legal rights of our clients. To learn more about our legal services, please contact us.