Workplace injuries generally take one of two forms. Either they are traumatic injuries caused by a single accident event or they are repetitive injuries that appear and worsen over a prolonged period of time. However, not every work-related injury is necessarily new. Pre-existing injuries and conditions can be worsened due to a traumatic or repetitive injury on the job. In this article, we will be covering how Pennsylvania workers’ compensation treats such injuries and conditions.
What are Pre-Existing Injuries and Conditions?
Pre-existing injuries are any old injuries that existed prior to the work injury that may or may not have fully healed. A pre-existing injury may be a bad knee as a result of a bicycle accident from months or years prior or a bad back from shoveling snow.
A pre-existing condition may or may not be not related to your work. A heart condition that makes you prone to suffering from a heart attack would be considered a pre-existing condition. The existence of the pre-existing condition does not need to be known by the employer or the injured worker for it to be valid under workers’ compensation law either. In fact, many people do not realize they have underlying conditions like this until after their first heart attack, stroke, or other medical emergency.
Aggravation of a Pre-Existing Injury or Condition
There are just as many, if not more, ways to aggravate a pre-existing injury or condition at work as there are to suffer a new injury. Any incident that can result in a new injury can also result in the aggravation of an old injury. And there are some workplace environments that can aggravate pre-existing conditions even if they would not necessarily have caused a new condition in an otherwise healthy individual.
For the purposes of workers’ compensation, aggravation refers to making the injury or condition worse, combining with the injury or condition, or contributing to the injury or condition.
Example #1: Traumatic Injury Worsening Back Pain
If you suffered from a pre-existing back injury and then fell at work, it is very possible that your back injury could be made worse from the fall. You might experience more day-to-day pain after the fall, or you may find that your range of motion has been diminished. In either case, the workplace fall would be responsible for making your injury worse.
Example #2: Occupational Illness Combining with Asthma
Pre-existing conditions such as asthma are fairly common, but most people who suffer from them do not experience severe symptoms. However, if you contract an occupational lung illness, it could combine with your pre-existing condition to make it worse. Your asthma may become an issue year-round afterward, rather than only during allergy season.
Example #3: Repetitive Stress Injury Contributing to Arthritis
Workplace injuries can also contribute to an old injury or condition by causing the symptoms to flare up again. Perhaps you have a joint condition like arthritis which you have been successfully managing. But, due to the nature of your work, a repetitive stress injury has caused your joint pain to flare up again. This too could be considered a workplace aggravation of a pre-existing condition, but you will have to prove that your increase in pain is not simply due to the natural progression of arthritis.
How are Aggravations Compensated?
First, it is essential that you know that your pre-existing injuries or conditions do not exclude you from receiving workers’ compensation. Some employers or insurance companies may try to tell you that this is the case, but it is not! The aggravation of a pre-existing injury or condition is treated and compensated the same as a new injury in Pennsylvania. For all intents and purposes, it is considered a new injury that is in addition to the old injury or condition.
Pre-existing injuries and conditions are very common and can take many forms. Any injury or other medical condition that is not related to a workers’ current employment and that has reached its maximum medical improvement falls into this category. Under Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system, the aggravation of these injuries and conditions in the workplace is considered to be a wholly new injury. And as such, injured workers are eligible for compensation for the entirety of the injury or condition, not just the additional aggravation.
My name is Geoffrey Hillsberg, and I have been solely practicing Workers’ Compensation Law in the State of Pennsylvania since 1995. If you have been injured on the job, whether your injury is new or an aggravation of a pre-existing injury or condition, you deserve the right to compensation. Contact my law office today for a free consultation about the details of your case.
The advice offered above is general in nature and may not be applicable to every case. Consultation with an attorney is highly recommended. Reliance on this advice does not represent the formation of an attorney-client relationship in the absence of a fee agreement with Mr. Hillsberg.