One of the most common ways an Illinois workers compensation insurance company tries to deny benefits to an injured worker is by saying that you have a pre-existing condition. It’s not that these prior problems aren’t relevant. They can be. But they are not the be-all and end-all scenarios that insurance companies make them out to be. In other words, just because you were hurt before doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good work comp case now.
We see this defense used in all sorts of cases. The number one injury it’s used on is when you have back problems. The reality is that most people will at some point in their life have back pain. Some people can manage it with Advil, while others require medical care. This is true of even the fittest people on the planet.
What is also true is that people with back problems have work accidents or a repetitive, demanding job that makes their back problems worse. And when you are trying to figure out if you have an Illinois workers’ compensation case, that is the key. Did your job make your condition worse?
In a recent case, a Waste Management employee had been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease back in 2010. That is a common diagnosis for someone with back pain and something that happens to many people as they get older. He still was able to drive a garbage truck for 30 years and make up to 125 stops on a 10-12 hour day. He had to push and pull garbage cans that could weigh up to 200 pounds and he also lifted a lot of heavy boxes.
One day in 2016 he started to feel his right foot get heavy. He was eventually diagnosed with right foot drop which can stem from back injuries. He ended up having a lumbar fusion. Eventually, he was released with permanent restrictions that prevented him from doing his job.
The insurance company tried to pin his problems on his 2010 diagnosis. They also took issue with the symptoms popping up while he was walking to his truck. Eventually, the Illinois Appellate Court found that the worker was injured due to his job duties which aggravated a longstanding back condition. The key again is the word “aggravated.” The job didn’t start the problems, but it made them worse.
Another way to look at it is that if he wasn’t doing this job, it doesn’t seem like he would have needed a lumbar fusion. And he wouldn’t need permanent restrictions.
The whole situation is aggravating, no pun intended. If you drive a garbage truck for 30 years and do a ton of lifting on daily, long shifts, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that work could contribute to back problems. Yet this worker had to jump through hoops and a trial and multiple appeals to get what he was entitled to.
Fortunately, the good guys won in the end. But it doesn’t make the scenario any less frustrating.