Generally in the law, a defendant "takes the plaintiff as he finds him," even if the plaintiff had some pre-existing malady that made him or her more susceptible to injury. This is usually true in workers' compensation as well, in which the law holds an employer liable for work-related incidents or injuries that aggravate a pre-existing condition.
Of course, employers frequently question whether an injury truly "aggravated" the condition or whether the pre-existing condition itself is the sole cause of the employee's current complaint. Unless there is some connection between the disabling condition and the on-the-job accident, the employer is not responsible for paying benefits to the claimant. The same is true in situations in which the worker's ailment reverts back to the baseline condition.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case, the claimant was a flight attendant who alleged that she had suffered an on-the-job accident that aggravated a pre-existing condition in her back and feet. The employer paid for some medical treatment for the injuries to the claimant's feet, but it did not provide medical care for her back. The claimant also alleged that the employer wrongfully refused to allow her to exercise her right to a one-time change of panel physicians.
The employee filed a claim with the State Board of Workers Compensation (SBWC). The administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that the claimant failed to prove her case with regard to a work-related aggravation of her lower back condition, but she did provide competent and credible evidence of a compensable aggravation of her pre-existing bilateral foot condition. Her request for further medical treatment was denied.
Decision of the SBWC
The appellate division of the workers' compensation board affirmed the ALJ's decision, holding that she was in the best position to determine the credibility of the witnesses and weigh the evidence.
This is a common result in cases involving a pre-existing condition, since such cases are extremely fact-specific. In the end, the judge must consider the exact nature of the ailment or injury from which the plaintiff was suffering at the time of his or her work injury, and the judge must determine how the injury at work made the earlier condition worse, whether the plaintiff recovered from the condition, and whether the plaintiff's condition ever returned to the pre-existing state in which it was prior to the event at work.
Here, while the claimant was found to have aggravated a pre-existing injury to her feet, the ALJ found that her condition had essentially returned to its pre-injury state. Thus, she was not entitled to additional benefits for the work-related aggravation of the injury.
An Experienced Atlanta Work Injury Lawyer
Proving that a work-related injury aggravated a pre-existing condition can be a difficult task. At the Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, we handle a wide variety of Atlanta work injury cases, including those involving claims in which a prior medical condition or accident may be an issue. Call us at 678-894-4758 for a free consultation. No legal fees are required in order to file your claim.