In most states, an injured worker is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if his on-the-job injury is an aggravation of a prior injury or condition (both are called pre-existing conditions). A worker is not eligible for workers’ comp benefits if the only injury is the pre-existing one; he must have sustained a new injury.
Pre-existing injuries can include herniated disks, broken bones, torn ligaments, and other relatively obvious injuries. Other conditions may be more closely related to general physical health, such as age-related spine degeneration or arthritis.
It’s not uncommon for an insurance company to wrongfully deny a legitimate claim because of a pre-existing medical condition. Many times, an injured worker simply gives up on the claim; however, insurance companies cannot immediately deny an on-the-job injury claim based solely on a pre-existing condition.
The rationale supporting giving workers’ comp benefits for the aggravation of a pre-existing condition follows the “but for” rule often quoted by lawyers.
Example: Back Injury Caused by Lifting Boxes
A worker is loading boxes onto his delivery van when his pre-existing back injury flares up. He didn’t have any problems with his back when he woke up that morning. In fact, he’s been fine since he recovered from his prior injury two years ago. Therefore, the act of loading the boxes is the cause of the worker’s pain and discomfort, not the prior back injury.
“But for” the loading of the boxes, the pre-existing back injury would not have manifested itself. Performance of the worker’s duties loading boxes onto the van is the sole cause of his new injury.
In most states, employers hire employees “as is.” When you buy a used car and the sign on the window says, “Sold As Is,” that means you are responsible to pay for any repairs it might need. While human beings aren’t cars, the “as is” principle is similar.
Payment of Medical Bills and Lost Wages
Whether your current workers’ comp claim is based on a re-injury, or aggravation of a medical condition sustained on a previous job, you’re entitled to have all necessary medical bills paid and the same percentage of lost wages as anyone else injured on the job.
This is true whether your old injury was fully healed or not, and as long as you didn’t perform actions restricted by your doctor. Ignoring your doctor’s orders might be grounds for a rightful denial of your new injury claim.
Example: Mechanic Re-injures Leg
A mechanic working for a car dealership is injured when a portable hydraulic lift loses power. The front wheel of a car falls on his leg and fractures his tibia. He files a workers’ compensation claim and receives full medical and lost wage benefits. In a few months, the mechanic reaches a level of maximum medical improvement (MMI). His doctor clears him to return to work full time and resume his previous job duties.
A year later, the mechanic resigns from his position and accepts a new job at another car dealership. While working at the new dealership, he falls and re-fractures his tibia. The new employer’s workers’ comp insurance should pay all his reasonably necessary medical bills and lost wages.
Example: Mechanic Ignores Doctor’s Orders
Another mechanic at a different dealership sustains a broken tibia in the same type of accident; however, his doctor instructs him not to resume or accept any job duties where undue pressure might be exerted on his injured leg. The doctor specifically tells him not to work with hydraulic jacks because using them requires leg strength.
Several weeks later, he interviews for a job with a new dealership. The pay is higher, but the job duties include working with a hydraulic jack. He accepts the job anyway. One day the hydraulic jack he’s operating begins to slip. He uses his leg strength to prevent it from falling, and the pressure causes his previously injured tibia to fracture.
The mechanic files a workers’ comp claim. After reviewing the medical records from his previous job injury, the insurance company justifiably denies his claim because he ignored his doctor’s orders.
A few states make a further distinction regarding prior injuries as they affect workers compensation benefits. In these states, if the pre-existing medical condition was from a non-work-related injury, the worker is not eligible for benefits.
Building an Effective Claim
Workers’ compensation laws were enacted to make the employer-worker injury claim process less adversarial. Over time, insurance companies responsible for compensating injured workers became huge corporations with stockholders to answer to, profit margins to meet, and executive salaries to pay. As a result, the once non-adversarial system has become more adversarial than ever.
Insurance companies look for any means to deny your injury claim. The insurance adjuster assigned to your claim will thoroughly investigate your medical background and look for any evidence of falsehoods concerning pre-existing conditions.
Trying to be greedy in a claim ultimately backfires. It’s better to tell the truth. If questions on the doctor’s admitting form ask if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, you must answer truthfully. If the medical staff or doctors ask you, you must be honest with them. Failing to disclose a pre-existing condition can be grounds for denial of your claim.
Be clear when discussing your current pain and discomfort with the doctors that it’s very different from any residual pain and discomfort you may have from a pre-existing injury. Let them know you did not have symptoms before your current injury. If you tell the doctors your current symptoms are no different than those you’ve been experiencing since your previous injury, your claim will likely be denied.
Giving detailed information during your medical exams is very important. Clearly explain that you weren’t having pain or discomfort from a prior injury when your new injury occurred. Describe any changes in the type of pain you’re feeling, including its frequency, intensity and duration. Tell the doctor how the new injury is affecting your daily activities in a way it hasn’t since your prior injury.
You want to place as much distance as possible between your prior condition and the new on-the-job injury. The greater the percentage of pain, discomfort, and disability from your new injury, the less your claim will be reduced as a result of your pre-existing condition.
During the investigation of your claim, you may be diagnosed by two or even three doctors, and you may have to undergo an independent medical examination (IME). Always give them the same detailed information about your symptoms, level of pain, and disability. Consistently reporting your condition greatly improves the chances of reaching a consensus among all the doctors.
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Visitor Questions on Issues with Work Injury Claims
Husband reinjured his back at work… In 2014, my husband was working at an appliance repair shop. He was moving a stove by himself and sustained 3 torn discs in his spine and one bad herniation. He went though workers comp, got an attorney, and was awarded a lump sum of temporary partial disability in the amount of $18K. Flash forward... Read More >>
Can I increase the percentage of disability? I fell originally on 12/31/2015 at work and ended up having rotator cuff surgery. I settled on this claim but then on 1/10/17 I fell again outside of work on ice. I fell on the same arm and the diagnosis was a strain. I was sore so I went back to the surgeon who did... Read More >>
Didn’t know I had Carpal tunnel until I started a new job… I worked for a company as cashier manager for 7+yrs but was let go without notice when they closed the store in Nov 2016. I then started working as a sower and that’s when I realized I had carpel tunnel. It came on fast due to pushing, pulling and moving all the different materials. Looking back... Read More >>
Injuries related to 9/11… During 9/11/2001, I was a Police Officer with the NYPD. Soon after I got sleep apnea, bronchitis, GERD, and the WTC cough. On 7/18/2003 I left the NYC municipality and started working for the city of Yonkers as a firefighter. Over the years as my condition got worse I would just call in sick. I... Read More >>
Should I file a claim for aggravation of previous back injury? I have a pre-existing back condition: degenerative cervical spine with stenosis and multiple herniations of the lumbar spine. I was out on disability leave earlier this year but returned part-time. I am considering filing a workers’ comp claim now on the basis of an aggravation of pre-existing condition. I work standing up and sitting down,... Read More >>
How can I report a neck injury if I wasn’t aware of it? I was injured on the job and was initially diagnosed with a shoulder strain, however, after two months of physical therapy my doc decided it was time for an MRI. Another month passed and the doc reviewed the MRI with me, revealing that I had a torn rotator cuff. My doc prescribed another twelve weeks... Read More >>
Being low balled due to pre-existing back problems, is this fair? I’m in the middle of a workers comp claim where I fell on the job and injured my back. I have a pre-existing back condition, which I disclosed, and I have two doctors who state that the injury is new and due to the fall. I’ve stated that all of the symptoms and limitations are... Read More >>
Is Sciatica considered a prior injury? I am currently involved in a workers’ compensation claim. I injured my back on the job, October 25th of this year (2014). However, today I was asked if I was diagnosed with any back problems before now. I can’t truly remember, all I remember is an ER Dr. stating Sciatica; but I don’t believe my... Read More >>
Aggravated prior left wrist injury? I closed out a workers’ compensation claim receiving a settlement in 2010. It was re-injured in aggravation at a former employer when a hoist I was working on malfunctioned, and I was given instructions to continue working with it, forcing my left hand up in a forceful pressure cable retract. My wrist started to hurt,... Read More >>
Which workers’ comp insurance should pay the current medical bills? My husband had a work related injury back in 2007. He cut his hand on a piece of sheet metal, and had to have the tendon in his hand sewn back together. Now he is having pain in his hand. He went back to the same doctor that originally treated him, who says he now... Read More >>
Chronic back injuries after 28 years as a concrete laborer… I have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, DDD radiculopathy of the lumbosacral region, and have chronic pain. I’ve been a concrete laborer for the same company for 28 years. I’m 50 years old. The back problems started to effect my ability to work in May of 2014. I had injections in my back in July,... Read More >>
Denied benefits for work related injury because of prior back pain? I’ve had back pain for years. I finally got insurance and was seeing my family doctor. She agreed to send me to a pain management doctor, who is also a back specialist. I saw him and he had 2 MRIs done on me, one with contrast and the other was just plain. He also took... Read More >>
Fell again while out on workers’ comp? I fell at work 4 months ago and hurt a pre-existing lower back injury, plus causing new injuries in my neck, upper back and hip. Today I fell while still out on workers’ comp, due to my back locking and having spasms. My leg is still weak so I could not get my footing and... Read More >>
Previous knee injury is acting up… I injured my left knee last year at work. I had a torn lateral meniscus and that was shaved off. I’ve been doing good the last 6 months or so. Now all of a sudden, my knee is starting to give out and I can’t bear weight on it. Would this still be covered by... Read More >>
Denying coverage for a hernia surgery? I had a hernia repaired in January 2013. In May 2013 I injured the same hernia again while working. My employer said I needed to get a work release to keep working, so I went to the doctor that did my surgery. He said he thought I had hurt myself again, but could not be... Read More >>
Coverage for second knee injury caused by first knee injury? In November 2012 I hurt my right knee on the job. I tore my meniscus and had a partial tear of my ACL. My employer did not argue or try to deny the claim and it was immediately accepted as a workers compensation claim. I had the surgery and was out of work for 10... Read More >>
Can I get a settlement for a mistreated work injury from 12 years ago? Approximately 12 years ago I had a 1 ton cheese press frame crush me to the ground, pinning me under it from my waist down. My right leg took most of the damage. I was taken into our first aid room, where my manager had me remove my clothes so he could see what damage... Read More >>
My full time job is affected by an injury at my part time job… I have 2 jobs, one full-time and one part-time. I fell at work at the part-time job. I broke my pinky finger and injured my ring finger in the fall. I’ve had 3 surgeries on the pinky and might face a joint replacement or infusion. Workmans comp says Maryland is not a “double stack” state... Read More >>
Low ball offer for pre-existing condition? I worked for a cola company for 36 years. I am 61 years old and have had three previous back surgeries due to my job (the last surgery was in 2012). I returned to work until Feb 2013 at which time my back again had problems. Workers comp sent me to two doctors, both of... Read More >>
Second Knee Injury While on Workers Comp for a Different Injury… I hurt one of my knees while working. I had surgery about 4 years ago. I’m still on workers compensation but working a light duty position at the same place where I got hurt. Well now my other knee is starting to bother me. I’d like to know what would happen if I hurt my... Read More >>
Is my previous employer liable for future complications of a previous injury? I injured my back after lifting roof decking while at work. I reported it to my supervisor that same day and continued to work. After several days the pain in my back and left leg was getting so bad I had a hard time walking. At that point I took a voluntary day off as... Read More >>
Secondary Knee Injury Caused by Work Injury… I was walking at work and due to my employer’s policy of wearing heals I tore up my knee and tore my leg muscle. While off due to that injury I went to do my physical therapy at home and tore my PCL in my other leg. Would this be considered part of my first... Read More >>
New Injury or Re-Injury? I was injured in a car accident at work 6 years ago. I did not have a lawyer for my workmans comp claim, but I did have one for the personal injury against the other person’s insurance. I was shown to have a bulging disk in my lower back. I never missed work, but I... Read More >>
Will Osteoarthritis Affect My Workmans Comp Claim? I slipped off a company van and sprained my hand. I did not know I had osteoarthritis in that hand. Ever since the fall my finger and hand stay swollen and it’s very painful. I have cream to rub on my hand given to me by my workmans comp doctor, and I take celebrex which... Read More >>
Workers Compensation Claim Investigation… I was at work, doing a typical job task on my knees stocking cameras. Upon getting up, I had an intense pain, pull and pop in my knee. The doctor says X-rays show a break or fracture of the bone behind the knee. Workers Compensation Claims Management says it isn’t a typical injury and it... Read More >>
Herniated Disk Workmans Compensation Case… I was at work lifting two different die sections, moving them from one cart to another cart. While setting the second die section down I felt excruciating pain in my lower back and right butt. I now have the L5 disc herniated which will need surgery. In the past I had problems with the same... Read More >>
Workers Comp Questions about a Pre-Existing Condition… I have a few workers comp questions that I hope you can help me with. I work on computer keyboards for 8 hours everyday, non-stop. The pay is based on occupancy rate. Anyway, I started to lose strength in my hand, then numbness set in, then tingling in my pinkie and ring finger. After that... Read More >>
Workers Compensation Claim After Retirement? My husband was injured at his place of employment in February of this year. He was out of work from February ’till May of this year. His doctor didn’t want him to go back to work, but he has worked all his life and convinced the doctor to release him. Prior to him returning to... Read More >>