When Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Aggravation of a Pre-existing Injury?

Man with a hurt leg

We meet with many workers who have aggravated pre-existing conditions. The question many of them have: Can I be covered by workers’ compensation if I was already injured? In many cases, the answer is yes. If their pre-existing condition or injury was made worse by an incident at work, they are likely candidates for workers’ compensation. 

What is a Pre-existing Injury or Condition?

A pre-existing injury or condition is any sort of ailment you experienced before the workplace incident that changed the severity of your condition or symptoms. Examples of common pre-existing injuries and conditions could include arthritis, a bad knee, or limited shoulder mobility. 

Your pre-existing injury or condition can stem from multiple sources, including:

  • A degenerative disease
  • A prior surgery
  • A prior ailment for a part of the body
  • An injury you sustained outside of the workplace
  • An injury you sustained while working for a previous employer
  • An injury you sustained while working for your current employer

When discussing whether or not you qualify for workers’ compensation, the source of your pre-existing condition or injury may play a role. What matters most is whether or not an incident at work exacerbated or aggravated your pre-existing condition or injury to the degree that it is a material or substantial contributing cause to your current disability.

Exacerbation and Aggravation

Exacerbation and aggravation are synonymous terms used when a pre-existing injury or condition is temporarily or permanently worsened. You may hear one of these terms when discussing your workers’ compensation case with your lawyer or doctor.

When determining whether you are eligible for workers’ compensation, we want to examine whether your workplace incident exacerbated or aggravated your pre-existing injury to the point that you need to temporarily or permanently stop working.

Woman massaging her wrist

When Exacerbating or Aggravating a Pre-existing Injury Qualifies for Workers’ Compensation

To clarify when a pre-existing condition is exacerbated or aggravated by an on-the-job incident, let’s review an example. Say you have a degenerative condition in your back. You occasionally experience pain throughout the day but you are able to continue working. 

One day, you stoop down to lift a box onto a nearby shelf, and you tear a ligament in your back. The pain is so severe that you have to stop working. Depending on whether a doctor says you have the potential to recover from the injury, this could be an exacerbation or aggravation of your pre-existing degenerative condition. 

Because the torn ligament was a direct result of a work-related incident, your injury likely qualifies for workers’ compensation. 

These cases become trickier when there is no clear diagnosis of how the injury was exacerbated or aggravated. Consider this scenario: You bend down to pick up that same box, but instead of tearing a ligament, you feel an intense amount of pain. An examination by your doctor finds no clear source of the increase in pain, and your degenerative condition does not appear to have worsened. 

In this situation, qualifying for workers’ compensation may become more difficult, and the insurance company could argue that your aggravation or exacerbation of your pre-existing condition was a natural progression of your arthritis. To help clear any confusion, judges prefer to see some sort of anatomical change to your body, like a torn ligament, that makes it clear that the workplace incident increased the severity of your pre-existing condition. 

If you find yourself in this situation and are not sure what to do, reach out to a workers’ compensation attorney for a free consultation about your options.

Get the Representation You Deserve

If you have exacerbated or aggravated a pre-existing condition while working, contact us. Our team will fight for the compensation you deserve so that you can focus on becoming healthy again. 

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