A workers' compensation injury may aggravate a pre-existing condition

A person injured on the job may make a workers' compensation claim to secure benefits and compensation. However, a common defense from an employer is that the injury did not result from the accident, but rather was the result of a preexisting medical condition.

The recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Yingling v. Bank of America provides an example of a claimant overcoming this assertion by his employer.

Multiple work-related injuries

According to the case, the claimant, during his first year working for a bank, fell from a ladder at his home and injured his back. He sought treatment for the injury and was able to engage in normal activity again within a year.

About one year later, the claimant had a meeting at work in one of bank's buildings. After he delivered doughnuts to the meeting, he went to move his car to another lot because he had parked in a reserved spot. As he was driving, his car was hit by another driver who ran a red light. As a result of this accident, the claimant sought medical treatment for his back, but continued to experience significant pain. The claimant continued to work for the bank throughout this period.

About two years later, the claimant slipped and fell on a recently waxed floor while at work. This fall caused him considerable pain in his back and down his legs. The claimant again sought treatment from his doctor, who recommended more invasive treatment than for his prior injuries, including spinal surgery. Despite a successful surgery, he continued to experience considerable discomfort and no longer was able to work for the bank.

The claimant filed a claim and the bank denied it, alleging, among other arguments, that given the claimant's history of back problems, the later fall had not materially accelerated or aggravated his preexisting condition.

Had the fall aggravated his condition?

The North Carolina Court of Appeals, in reviewing the case, noted that the doctor who offered his opinion was a board-certified specialist in orthopedics, an attending physician at a hospital, a professor of orthopedic surgery and assistant dean at a medical college and had authored numerous publications on orthopedics.

After the claimant's initial work injury, this doctor had recommended physical therapy and other conservative treatment. However, after the fall-related injury, the claimant reported that he was in miserable pain, and the doctor stated that many of the claimant's symptoms had become much more severe. Thus, the doctor recommended a decompression surgery and, although the surgery went well, the claimant had still not gotten back to his pre-fall level. The doctor opined that the fall contributed to, accelerated and exacerbated the claimant's pain.

The court noted that the doctor did not merely guess or speculate, but opined, relying on his actual physical examinations of the claimant and the claimant's reports of pain. Based on the doctor's extensive experience and training in orthopedics, he determined that the accident did aggravate the preexisting condition.

The court held that the doctor's testimony was competent evidence that supported the finding that the fall-related back injury materially aggravated the claimant's preexisting condition.

Pursue the compensation you deserve

If you are injured in a work-related injury, you may be surprised to find that your employer and its insurer may attempt to deny your claim. This situation may be made even more difficult if you had previously suffered from a similar injury. In such a situation, you should seek an experienced workers' compensation attorney who will help you receive the full benefits and compensation you are entitled to under the law.