The Illinois Appellate Court denied worker’s compensation benefits to a truck driver with a pre-existing non-work-related right foot/ankle condition who stepped in a pothole at work aggravating the pre-existing condition. The Court noted that the condition could have deteriorated without an accident. The Illinois Supreme Court disagreed and awarded benefits, explaining that an employee with a preexisting condition is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if the accident aggravated or accelerated the preexisting disease/condition. The Court stated that the work-related accident does not have to be the “sole” cause or “primary” cause of the injury as long as it is “a” cause.
This is a very important decision because many employees, including you or your union brothers/sisters, may have preexisting conditions. If a work-related accident further aggravates, accelerates or worsens the prior condition, the injury still can be considered work-related.
For example, if you lift something at work and it aggravates your lower back, many employers attempt to deny benefits if you had a prior back problem even if the prior problem was years earlier. Or the plant doctor may tell you that you have “arthritis” and therefore it cannot be work-related; however, having arthritis or some other preexisting condition does not necessarily defeat your workers’ compensation claim. Preexisting conditions can be aggravated and even arthritic conditions can be worsened/accelerated by a work accident. Remember, just because you injured your back, arm or other part of your body before, you still may have a valid workers’ compensation claim.
In addressing these cases, we ask a doctor for an opinion on the relationship between an accident and a condition. We phrase the question as to whether the condition “could or might have been caused, aggravated or accelerated” by the work-related injury. If the accident made the condition worse or brought on symptoms that were not present before, there may be a valid workers’ compensation claim. Each claim will depend on the specific facts and medical opinions.
If a work accident or the work environment worsens a preexisting condition, please inform the company doctor as well as your doctor(s). This also applies to repetitive activities. If you aggravate a prior condition while performing your job by repetitive work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. If you have any questions on the subject, please contact us.