The 1991 amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act created a number of obstacles for workers injured on the job in Massachusetts. This is especially true for employees who suffered prior injuries that are aggravated by an accident at work. The aggravation of a pre-existing condition can be an obstacle to receiving workers’ compensation benefits, but it is certainly one that can be overcome if approached in the right manner.
The straight forward case involves an aggravation of a pre-existing condition that results from a prior work related accident. For example, if one has injured his or her back and received workers’ compensation benefits for that injury, either weekly disability checks or the payment of medical treatment for that injury, then a simple aggravation in a later job related accident is sufficient to satisfy the causal relationship requirement which comes with every claim.
The more difficult problem arises when the aggravation of a pre-existing condition, which arose from a non-work related condition or injury, occurs on the job. In these situations an injured worker must prove the aggravation is a major contributing cause. It is important to note that the aggravation does not have to be the sole cause, but rather a major cause. There are instances in which there may be more than one major contributor. It is essential that doctors who write disability reports recognize this sometimes subtle distinction.
The medical history which an injured worker gives health care providers must always include any pre-existing injuries or conditions. An accurate history is essential for a medical provider to fully evaluate a person’s health. Treatment options may be affected by a patient’s history. One must always give a candid description of the injury and medical history so as to give the medical provider the best information upon which to make treatment decisions. Objective medical tests such as x-ray or MRI may uncover such a problem, so be sure to give an accurate history.
When dealing with a pre-existing condition consider legal counsel as well. The subtleties of the definition of a compensable injury and the need to carefully distinguish an old injury from a new injury, is often the determining factor in whether or not one receives benefits. These medical/legal issues are pitfalls for the unwary and must be avoided.
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