Having a pre-existing injury can complicate a claim for workers’ compensation in Florida, but it does not automatically make an injured employee ineligible for benefits. If the worker aggravated a pre-existing condition in a workplace accident, benefits may be available for both medical conditions. If the pre-existing injury simply flared up but was not tied to any on the job duties, the worker will likely not qualify for any workers’ compensation benefits.
For example, imagine that Mr. Smith had a pre-existing back injury. The back injury was bothering him before he left for work in the morning and continued to hurt while he was lifting heavy items at work. Because the back injury was already aggravated before coming to work that day, it was not a result of any workplace activities and he would likely not be able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. However, if Mr. Smith felt fine in the morning, lifted the heavy items at work, and then immediately felt pain in his old injury, the aggravation of the injury can be tied to job duties and he should be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Some examples of pre-existing injuries that can commonly be exacerbated at work include as follows:
- Torn, strained, or sprained ligaments or tendons;
- Fractured or stress fractured bones;
- Herniated or bulging disks;
- Spine degeneration; and
Some workers’ compensation insurance companies hear the term “pre-existing injury” and will deny a claim that actually should have been valid despite the existence of the prior injury. Unfortunately, too often, a worker will simply take the insurance company’s word that they do not qualify for benefits and will give up trying to receive benefits. In such cases, if the employee had discussed their case with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer, they may have realized that they should have fought for the benefits they deserved.
Accidents That Can Aggravate Pre-existing Injuries
There are many different ways that an individual can re-injure a prior injury, many of which can happen on the job. Some of the following commonly aggravate prior conditions or injuries:
- Motor vehicle accidents – Because of the impact of a motor vehicle collision, any body parts that were already fragile or easily injured can often be exacerbated and can result in new pain and the need for new medical treatment.
- Falls – Anytime someone falls, they can hit various parts of the body on the ground or on other objects. If a part of the body that is impacted was previously injured, chances are high that the injury will resurface.
- Lifting, pushing, and pulling – Anytime a person has previous injuries and engages in lifting, pushing, or pulling of heavy objects, they are at risk of re-injuring themselves, even if a medical professional gave them clearance to engage in this type of behavior.
Following The Doctor’s Orders
There are some instances in which an employee aggravates an older injury because they did not heed the advice of a medical professional. For example, take Mr. Smith from the above example. Imagine that, after his initial back injury, medical professionals informed him that he should avoid doing all heavy lifting otherwise he would risk re-injuring his back. Instead of listening to the doctor’s advice, Mr. Smith accepts a job and agrees to do heavy lifting and eventually re-injures his back. If his employer knew of his restrictions or medical recommendations they may be able to successfully deny a new claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
What Benefits Can Be Approved In Cases Involving Pre-existing Injuries?
If an employer and its insurance company determine that an employee truly did re-aggravate or re-injure a prior condition or injury while performing job duties, the employee should be entitled to the full amount of benefits they would receive for a completely new injury. Such benefits include medical treatment, wage replacement, temporary or permanent disability, and more for as long as necessary until the re-injury heals.