Pre-Existing Injuries and Workers' Comp Claims

Aggravating a Pre-Existing Injury at Work

What happens when someone is hurt at work and injures a previously injured body part? For example, let’s assume someone has pre-existing back problems, a pretty commonplace occurrence for all of us as we get older, and then during the course of their employment they sustain an accident where that pre-existing back problem, while it had been manageable in the past, was now aggravated or worsened to such an extent that that worker needs medical care.

Well, the workers’ compensation law in New Jersey provides protection and coverage for those types of injuries. It’s a very broad test in that the Workers’ Compensation Act is remedial social legislation. It’s meant to benefit injured workers. That’s its main purpose, so when you have that kind of very expansive state law, the courts are instructed to interpret that law when there’s an odd situation that occurs in such a way to provide as much coverage as possible without changing the actual words that are part and parcel of the law.

Pre-Existing Back, Knee Injuries

So as much interpretation as can be done to the law to provide coverage is what courts are instructed to do. So in the context of pre-existing injuries, if an accident that occurred at work aggravates or even accelerates the need for medical treatment, then workers’ compensation, the employer through the Workers’ Compensation Act is responsible. For example, let’s assume someone has a pre-existing knee problem and they’ve been told by their treating doctor that in three or four years, because of the severity of that pre-existing knee problem, they’re going to need a knee replacement. Let’s assume that that person however in that intervening three or four year period is able to work. Let’s assume a little bit more, that during the course of their employment they fall, land on that knee and that need for surgery, which at one point in time had been three or four years down the line is now a need for surgery within the next week or two. The condition, while it was pre-existing had been accelerated in such a fashion that medical treatment, while it had been given in the past for a period of time later on, it was now immediate. That’s a situation when the Workers’ Compensation Act would direct that the employer is responsible for that medical treatment and is also responsible for paying that injured worker for the permanency that resulted from that accident.

Hearing, Respiratory and Cardiac Health Claims

Certain times workers will also suffer injuries that aren’t to particular body parts, but impact particular body systems. For instance, one’s hearing or one’s respiratory function or one’s cardiac function. Those types of claims are often due to occupational exposures to chemicals or, with regard to hearing, to sounds that occur over a period of time. There are special rules that need to be followed when an injured worker believes that a body system such as the cardiac system, the heart, or the circulatory system or the respiratory system, the lungs, has been injured. If you are one of those people I would respectfully suggest that you contact our office as quickly as possible to make sure that any opportunity that you have to bring a claim is not lost.