Some work injury cases are very straightforward. Others have some fact or circumstance that makes them less so. One of these circumstances is when the injured worker was already suffering from an illness or condition when they got hurt at work. Not everyone is in perfect health. If you re-injure an old injury because of your job, or if a health issue is made worse by your job, there may be some question about whether your injury is truly a work injury under the law.
These are called pre-existing conditions. A pre-existing issue can be an injury from an old accident, or it can be something caused by age, such as arthritis or degenerative disc disease. Sometimes these things make a worker more susceptible to injury on the job. Other times, a job injury aggravates an old injury. Either way, it’s not a deal-breaker.
Degenerative disc disease is fairly common. As you age, the discs in your spine lose their ability to absorb shock, and an injury can have a greater effect on someone with this condition. Arthritis is a broad category of joint conditions. Jobs that put extra strain on the joints can lead to aggravation of arthritis. A job that requires hard physical labor, or one that requires repetitive motion, or even one that requires a worker to remain sedentary can affect arthritis, as well.
Illinois workers’ compensation law basically says that having a pre-existing condition does not disqualify an injury from counting as a work injury. You shouldn’t be denied benefits because had previously injured your knee and then hurt your knee at work or because you have arthritis and a work injury makes your arthritis act up.
You just have to prove that your job caused your current health problem or problems. This is true of any work injury – you have to prove that it’s related to your job. The bottom line is that pre-existing conditions can be a complication in a case, but they don’t mean you don’t have a case. You should still pursue a claim for workers’ compensation.
Know that the insurance company might try to deny your benefits if they find out about a pre-existing condition. Don’t be discouraged. You can request a hearing, ideally with an attorney on your side, and ask an arbitrator to award benefits. This will force the insurance company to pay you going forward, as well as pay you for the benefits you missed out on because they denied your claim originally. You might have to go to trial.
The law is on your side, but you need an experienced attorney who won’t sit back and wait to see what happens. They should be aggressive in proving that your injury is work related and in getting your benefits approved.