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What role does a preexisting condition play in workers' comp?

There are times that an injured worker may have a progressive medical condition unrelated to a workplace injury that is later aggravated by a work injury. Determining whether a worker may be fully compensation for a pre-existing condition and workplace injury requires close scrutiny of the particular facts.

A basic tenet of Connecticut's workers' compensation law is that an employer takes a worker in their physical condition at the time of employment. In other words, the employer is responsible for all of the consequences of a compensable injury even though the injury is more severe because of the employee's existing health problems or physical condition. For example, a worker who died from a heart attack after surgery for a knee injury received at work was entitled to workers' compensation benefits even though he had a pre-existing heart condition.

There are instances, however, where compensation may be apportioned. For example, a worker was exposed to asbestos over an eight-year period at work but he also had a longtime cigarette smoking habit. In that case, compensation can be apportioned by the estimated amount of damage to his lungs by smoking and the asbestos exposure because both exposures were two concurrently developing medical conditions and the claimant's occupation had no influence on the nonoccupational disease.

Recently, the state Supreme Court addressed a claimant who was earlier diagnosed with diabetes and diabetic neuropathy that affected his hands and arms before his workplace injury. At work, he suffered other injuries which also significantly affected his hands and arms. His pre-existing condition combined with his work injuries to cause the worker's condition and in fact exacerbated his injury. The Court ruled that the work accident victim should be compensated for his pre-existing injury because it was not a concurrently developing disease.

Workers may entitled to lost wages and medical benefits for workplace injuries. However, seeking these benefits may be complex. Prompt legal assistance, however, can help workers preserve their rights to benefits.

Source: FindLaw, "Sullins v. United Parcel Service, 315 Conn. 543, 108 A.3d1110 (Conn. 2015)," Accessed June 28, 2015

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James L. O’Rourke, ESQ
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