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Can I Receive Workers’ Comp if an Injury Aggravates a Pre-Existing Condition?

Atlanta Workers' Compensation Attorney

Georgia law recognizes the fact that employees may have a pre-existing problem when they step foot on their employer’s worksite.

According to Lumbermen’s Mutual Casualty Co. v. Griggs, “Fortunately for the employee, perfect health is not a prerequisite to the enjoyment of benefits of this statute.”

This means the employer cannot argue that the employee would not have been hurt had they been completely healthy.

However, there are limitations as the employer is only liable “for so long as the aggravation of the pre-existing condition continues to be the cause of the disability; the pre-existing condition shall no longer meet this criteria when the aggravation ceases to be the cause of the disability.”

Georgia Court Cases

Here are a couple of cases where the courts have held that a pre-existing condition was aggravated and the claim was compensable.

Example 1

An employee had a non-work-related, pre-existing ruptured disc that required her to be hospitalized for a period of time. She was subsequently able to return to work and perform her assigned duties. When she returned to work she was pain-free.

However, she then sustained an injury. “[W]hile putting up a stock of hosiery she overturned a carton, went down on her knee, and felt her back ‘pop’, experienced immediate pain and again had to be hospitalized” and she was totally disabled as a result. The Court of Appeals held that was an accepted accident and injury as it was the aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

Example 2

An employee was born with a condition known as spinal spondylolisthesis. The condition caused “back weakness because of a defect in the pedicle of the fifth lumbar vertebra so that it and the adjoining vertebra were not properly joined together by a bone connection.”

The employee was not having any problems with his back until he started working as a welder for Ford, a job that required “stooping, lifting and bending for long periods of time in awkward positions.” After five months of work, his back pain became disabling. He quit work and sought medical treatment for his condition.

At a hearing requested by the employee for benefits, the administrative law judge denied benefits as there was no injury, finding “[c]laimant was engaged in a job which he was not physically able to perform, showed no damage to his back caused by his job, and the only symptom which he has shown is that of pain which resulted from performing work which he was not physically equipped to perform due to a pre-existing congenital deformity.”

The Court of Appeals reversed and stressed two points:

  1. The aggravation of a pre-existing infirmity, whether congenital or otherwise, is compensable.
  2. Where a disability results that is objectively, physiologically ascertainable, “it is compensable although the onset of disability is imperceptible from day to day, and there is no one ‘accident’ at a specifiable time and place to which the result may be attributable.”

Legal Help for Injured Workers With Pre-Existing Conditions

Just because you have a pre-existing injury or issue doesn’t mean your employer or the insurance company can deny you workers’ compensation benefits. Whether the work injury happens suddenly or accelerates over time, you have rights as an injured employee.

Don’t let your boss or the insurance adjuster convince you to waive your rights for a pre-existing injury aggravated at work. Talk to our knowledgeable Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys today for a free consultation.

This post features an excerpt from Gary Martin Hays’ best-selling book The Authority on Workers’ Compensation in Georgia.

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