An injury is considered a work injury under Illinois workers’ compensation law if it “arises out of” an individual’s employment. What this essentially means is that your job has to cause your injury in order for you to receive benefits such as medical coverage and payment of lost wages.

Sometimes, the work obviously causes the injury. If you hurt your back doing physical labor on the job, then it’s pretty clear that your work caused your injury. However, not all cases are that simple. One tricky issue is when you suffer a secondary or aggravating injury on top of your original injury. Are you still covered?

In many cases, the answer is yes, if there’s still a link to your original work injury. The idea is that if your work injury leaves you less than 100%, and you are later hurt because of that vulnerability, you should be covered for that later injury, too. Let’s say you suffer a back injury on the job and then many months later get in a car accident that makes your injury much worse. Your additional medical costs should be covered. If you weren’t vulnerable in the first place, then that second incident would not have affected you like it did. So it all relates back to the work injury and proving causation, even if it seems indirect.

Another example is when someone gets injured doing physical therapy or rehab after a work injury. They’re obeying their doctor’s orders and following a regimen to improve their strength and ability to get back to work, but then it causes another injury. Are they covered? They weren’t at work when it happened – they were at the gym. They probably weren’t doing their work duties. But the causation is still there because the injury would not have happened had they not had a work injury in the first place. They would not have been doing the rehab program, or physical therapy session, if they hadn’t been suffering from a work injury. In this case, there is still a link between the job and the injury, and it should be covered under workers’ compensation.

We see this type of case with professional athletes, although it’s a bit different due to the nature of their job. An athlete who is injured playing their sport almost always has to do physical rehabilitation to get back to where they were. It’s similar to your average work injury in that the therapy is related to the work injury, so a re-injury or second injury should be covered. But it’s different in that an athlete is technically doing a version their job while doing the rehab program. The causation in these cases is perhaps even more clear.

All of this comes down to proving that your job caused your current injury. There are many nuances in the law that make this a deeper issue than it might seem. Get an attorney who knows how the law works in your situation.