Are My Pre-Existing Injuries Covered under the Workers' Compensation Act?

Remember the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”? That camel was hurting from years of carrying heavy loads but could still come to work—until the day its owner added on that one little straw that brought the camel to its knees. That’s how workers’ compensation treats pre-existing conditions.

Let’s say that you begin working for your employer with a bad back. Despite this pre-existing condition, you still are able to perform the job successfully. However, if your duties somehow “aggravate” the condition and cause you to become disabled, this “aggravation” of a “pre-existing condition” is covered under workers’ compensation.

Some progressive pre-existing conditions, such as osteoarthritis, may eventually cause disability even without a specific new injury. But if a doctor confirms that the work activities or a work injury “accelerated” the progression and caused a disability to occur “earlier than expected,” the disability is legally speaking a new injury that is covered by workers’ compensation.

Pre-existing conditions also can become a part of your case if there is a question of eligibility for permanent total disability benefits. Sometimes referred to as the “odd lot doctrine,” the specific characteristics of the injured worker such as age, experience, training, education, and mental capacity are included in the determination whether the injured worker is able to return to regular, paid employment.

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