02 Jul How Will My Pre-Existing Injury Affect My Workers’ Compensation Claim?
Millions of Americans are working with pre-existing injuries, but if you are injured on the job do not be discouraged from seeking workers’ compensation benefits. If your pre-existing condition or injury is exacerbated, aggravated, or accelerated due to a workplace injury you are still entitled to collect workers’ compensation. Read on to learn more about how your pre-existing injury may affect your workers’ compensation claim.
Pre-Existing Injuries and Why They Matter in Workers’ Compensation
Many people suffer from aches, pains, and physical limitations stemming from old injuries or other causes. For example, let’s say you injured your back in a previous work accident or auto accident and have now sustained an injury at work injuring your back. After undergoing an evaluation by your physician, you now need to undergo back surgery. Can you seek workers’ comp benefits from your employer even though you had a pre-existing back injury? Most likely, yes.
In Virginia, if you suffer a work-related injury that aggravates, exacerbates, or accelerates a prior injury then you can receive benefits for any reasonable and necessary treatment arising from the injury that worsened your prior injury. In other words, if your new injury exacerbates or aggravates your pre-existing injury, then the entire condition and disability that results from the new injury will be compensable.
Seeking immediate medical attention and following through on all treatment recommendations will be critical to your case. You will need medical documentation or testimony from your treating physician stating that your pre-existing injury was aggravated by your work injury with a reasonable degree of medical certainty. If your physician does not believe that it is more likely than not that the old injury was aggravated by the new work injury then you may have difficulty seeking benefits.
Returning to our example, if your physician determines that your work-related injury aggravated your back condition then you would be eligible for compensation covering the entire condition and disability that resulted from the recent injury.
How Insurance Companies Use Pre-Existing Conditions
Immediately after a work accident, your employer and its workers’ compensation insurance company will begin an investigation into the matter and part of that investigation will include determining whether you have any pre-existing conditions. Employers attempt to deflect liability and reduce any damages they may owe by blaming your injuries on a pre-existing injury so it is essential that you seek medical attention to demonstrate how your condition has been aggravated and to distinguish new symptoms and conditions from any old injuries. Medical records will be particularly helpful in this regard and a skilled workers’ compensation attorney can help guide you through the process of obtaining complete medical records from all treating providers.
Prepare to Discuss Your Pre-Existing Injury
Throughout the course of an accident investigation and during the process for obtaining workers’ compensation benefits you will likely be asked questions about your pre-existing injury. The best way to fight against claims that your current condition is due to a pre-existing injury and not your work accident is to be prepared to speak confidently and clearly about your past injuries.
More specifically, be prepared to discuss your life and abilities both before and after the accident. Below are a few sample questions for you to consider.
- Before your accident, describe your ability to complete your work duties. Were you limited in any way because of your pre-existing injury? Be prepared to provide concrete examples of activities you could or could not complete and specific examples of how your pre-existing injury impacted your work.
- Since your work accident, how has your ability to complete your work duties changed? Are there any tasks you can no longer complete or duties that require new accommodations to complete?
- Before your accident, what hobbies and activities did you typically engage in? Were you limited in anyway by your pre-existing injury?
- Since your work accident, are there are any hobbies or activities that you can no longer participate in?
- Be prepared to discuss the specifics of the accident itself, how it happened, and how you were hurt.
- Be prepared to discuss your current condition. What medical treatments have you received? How has your pain worsened or changed? What new medications are you taking? What limitations are you experiencing and how are they changed since the accident? It may be helpful to keep of log of your pain ratings and activities so you have consistent documentation of your day-to-day experiences rather than relying on your memory.
Be Honest About Your Pre-Existing Injuries
The existence of prior injuries or conditions is not something to run from and attempting to conceal them will only work against you. Rather, it is best to confront your pre-existing injuries head-on and be proactive in demonstrating how your work accident has aggravated, exacerbated, or accelerated your condition.
If you have enlisted the assistance of an attorney, disclose all prior injuries, accidents, and any litigation you have been involved in. Do not limit your disclosures to just work accidents, also think of any sports injuries or auto accidents you may have been involved in. Your attorney will work with you to develop a comprehensive medical history that distinguishes your past injuries from the incident at issue. To be proactive you may want to compile a list of treating providers and do not forget to include physical or occupational therapy, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, massage therapy, and any surgeries. All of these may be relevant. Pre-existing injuries do not have to be a roadblock to receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Rather, with the proper counsel and preparation, you can demonstrate that your work accident has aggravated your pre-existing condition and that you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The workers’ compensation attorneys at Renfro & Renfro have experience handling claims involving pre-existing injuries and are prepared to help you develop the narrative you need to get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.