Pre-existing Conditions and Workers' Compensation
A worker can recover full North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits when an accident materially accelerates or aggravates a condition which existed before the accident. This is true even if the accident would not have caused injury or death to a person without such a pre-existing condition.
The application of this rule of law arises most often in cases involving injury to the back. The fact that an employee has an injured or weak back before the accident does not prevent the worker from collecting full workers’ compensation benefits when an accident at work causes injury to an already injured back. The employment need not be the only cause of injury in order to render the accident payable.
The relative contributions of the accident and the pre-existing condition are not weighed. An employer must accept an employee as they are, and if a payable injury precipitates a latent physical condition such as heart disease, cancer, back weakness, or the like, the entire disability is payable.
When an injury arising out of and in the course of the employment aggravated a preexisting heart condition and caused death, the court held that the injury was payable.
This rule of law is a great benefit to the injured worker. However, the rule is not always easy to apply. It is sometimes difficult to predict whether the Industrial Commission or the court will determine that an accident caused an injury. Even where there is a claim that an accident made a pre-existing condition worse, the worker still must prove that the accident had some part in causing the injury.
As with many issues arising in North Carolina workers’ compensation cases, the issue of whether an accident or condition at work which makes a pre-existing condition worse is payable is sometimes difficult to predict. Therefore, it is important to have the assistance of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to increase the chances of collecting from the employer.