One of the most common questions I ask during an initial consultation with an injured worker is whether they have had preexisting injuries to the same body part they injured at work. Many injured workers that come into my office are under the impression that because they suffered an injury to the same body part they are claiming for their current work injury that they are barred from receiving any benefits. This is a very common misunderstanding with workers’ compensation. While it is common that almost all workers’ compensation denials are as a result of a preexisting condition to the same body part, this article will hopefully provide some insight as to how to address a preexisting condition in the world of workers compensation.
When it comes to workers compensation injuries, the standard in Minnesota is whether the injury is a “substantial contributing factor in aggravating or accelerating a preexisting injury.” This standard is case specific so that is why it is very important to properly describe your preexisting injury and current injury in great detail to your attorney. I often ask such questions as it pertains to the preexisting injury as the nature of the injury, symptoms, treatment, whether there has been a gap in treatment, whether the pain ever completely resolved, etc. In relation to the new claimed work injury, I often ask questions such as nature of injury, any new treatment, any new symptoms, work restrictions, missed time from work, etc.
One of the more common scenarios I encounter is when a worker comes into my office alleging a low back injury. The problem is that the injured worker had back surgery 5 or so years ago but ultimately returned back to work and was doing so up until the most recent injury that reinjured the back. Another common scenario is when an injured worker has preexisting degenerative disc disease and occasionally has a back ache from time to time (may even go and see a chiropractor for adjustments from time to time). In both scenarios, the work injury would be a “permanent aggravation” if the employee is experiencing a permanently higher level of pain of discomfort. The six factors that are assessed are (1) the nature and severity of the pre-existing condition and the extent of restrictions and disability resulting therefrom; (2) the nature of the symptoms and extent of medical treatment prior to the aggravating incident; (3) the nature and severity of the aggravating incident and the extent of the restrictions and disability resulting therefrom; (4) the nature of the symptoms and extent of medical treatment following the aggravating incident; (5) the nature and extent of the employee’s work duties and non-work activities during the relevant period; and (6) medical opinions on the issue. The injured worker may be reluctant to believe that the new injured should be covered under workers compensation, but very often that is the case.
It is important to note that an employer takes an employee as they are with all their preexisting conditions. While Employers do not need to address an employee’s personal injuries, they do assume the risk that an employee’s personal condition may be exacerbated by a work injury. So, if the injured worker is able to properly document the new injury and is able to accurately detail the preexisting injury they should feel comfortable in knowing that they may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. At the very least, the injured worker should consult an attorney to determine whether there is enough evidence to file the claim.
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