One of the biggest misunderstood features of Illinois workers’ compensation law has to do with prior injuries and how they affect you now.
Take for example a factory worker who contacted us recently. She had back surgery in 2011 after a car accident. She made a complete recovery and hasn’t seen a doctor for back trouble since 2013. Other than doing stretches that she learned in physical therapy and occasionally taking Advil, she hasn’t had any major issues since.
Fast forward to 2023, she has a job at a car plant and does a lot of lifting. While working in the spring, she felt a big pull in her back. She reported it immediately and went to her doctor a few days later when the pain didn’t go away.
It was her impression that since her back problems started in 2011 with the surgery that she couldn’t file for workers’ compensation. So instead she filed for short term disability after her doctor told her to take four weeks off. It was only after the short term disability company told her that it should be a work comp case that she thought about reaching out to an attorney.
Under Illinois workers’ compensation law, if your job causes, aggravates OR accelerates your injury, it’s covered under the work comp act. In other words, just because you had a prior injury doesn’t mean you can’t file for work comp.
The key for us is when was the prior injury. If you were recently getting medical care for the same problem, it’s possible to argue that the job caused just a temporary aggravation. If that happens getting work comp could be a challenge. On the other hand, even if you are getting active treatment, if a post accident MRI shows a big change to your condition, it is likely you will win benefits.
But in a case like this factory worker where she has essentially had no medical care for a decade, her prior back problems are essentially irrelevant. She clearly at worst aggravated a problem and most likely caused a new one.
We also look at what your job entails. With this auto worker, she does a lot of heavy lifting in a high paced environment. It would make sense even without the accident that she had that her back would break down over time.
In a perfect world, the employer would do the right thing and make clear to their employee that they should file for workers’ compensation benefits. That didn’t happen here and almost never happens. Employers don’t really value employees, even if they are nice to their face or it’s a good place to work.
So the good news is that we were able to help this worker. The bad news is that her benefits got delayed because the employer didn’t tell her what rights she had. Bottom line is don’t be discouraged if you had prior physical problems. It’s still worth a discussion. You can call us any time at 312-346-5578 to speak with a lawyer for free.