By Valarie Grossman, Esq.
You have been injured before. Who hasn’t? We are only human. But I would bet most of your prior injuries have not been at work. So do these prior injuries affect your worker’s compensation case? Does a prior injury affect your ability to get worker’s compensation benefits?
Yes – these injuries can affect your worker’s compensation case, but you are likely still entitled to benefits. So how does the worker’s compensation system account for these prior injuries?
Hypothetically, let’s say you suffer a slip and fall at work. When you fall, you break your hip. Is this an industrial injury? Absolutely. Now, let’s say you had also previously broken your hip years ago. What does that mean for your new injury? As the attorneys at Ghitterman, Ghitterman & Feld can explain, it will depend on how the more recent slip and fall is apportioned.
Wait? Apportionment? What is that? Don’t worry – apportionment, an important concept in worker’s compensation, is easier to understand than it sounds. This is a legal way of saying that if an injury has multiple causes, then the permanent disability is divided based on the percentage each cause, or factor, is responsible for the injury.
For another example, let’s say you have a pre-existing heart condition, and your work duties were stressful in nature. Say the stress from your job worsened your heart condition. In this case, an industrial heart injury occurred, but a percentage of the disability from that heart condition would be credited, or apportioned, to the pre-existing factors. A doctor in the worker’s compensation system would then decide how to apportion, or divide out, the responsibility for the injury. In this case, claim should be admitted as an industrial injury, but the permanent disability benefits would be reduced proportionally to the amount of disability the doctor apportions, or credits, to the pre-existing condition(s). Notice, the existence of a pre-existing condition does not prevent one from getting worker’s compensation benefits. To be eligible for benefits, there just needs to be some industrial causation to the injury. Total causation of the injury is not required.
It is important you discuss your individual case with your worker’s compensation attorney as each case has different factors and considerations that come into play. The type of injury you have, the extent of your prior injuries, how fully you recovered from the prior injuries, and the affected body parts will all be important factors.
Speak with your attorney – do not assume your prior injury prohibits you from receiving benefits from your work-related injury. It is possible you are still entitled to benefits from the Worker’s Compensation system.