Employees who are injured on the job are rarely in perfect health before the work-related injury occurs. The issues of whether an injury is a result of a preexisting condition and whether the injury is work-related are subjects of much litigation in Georgia workers’ compensation claims.
A recent case considered whether a claimant was entitled to benefits for a back injury despite a preexisting back injury. The claimant injured his lower back while he was working underground at a mine site. He claimed that he hit a large hole while he was driving a shuttle car underground, causing an injury to his lower back.
Afterwards, he told his foreman he had been injured and needed to go home. He saw a doctor the following day, who determined that he had a lumbar disc protrusion with nerve root compression. An MRI showed that he had a right lateral disc herniation and disc bulge at L4-5. His supervisors later stated that the claimant did not tell them his back injury occurred as a result of the alleged injury in the shuttle car, but he was not sure when it occurred.
The employer pointed out that the claimant had previously filed claims regarding his back. In fact, several years prior to the alleged injury, he had an MRI of his spine conducted, which showed bulging of his L4-5 and L5-S1 intervertebral discs and no herniation.
Despite the preexisting back injuries, the court held that he was entitled to compensation based on the evidence presented to the court. The court explained that if a claimant aggravates a preexisting condition in a new separate injury, the new injury may be compensable.
The evidence here showed that the worker left his shift early on the day of the alleged injury after he sustained a new separate back injury. In addition, although he had a history of degenerative disc disease and prior workers’ compensation claims involving back problems, a doctor stated that the MRI showed a new injury after the alleged work-related injury. There was no evidence that he did not have a herniated disc before the alleged injury. Therefore, he was entitled to compensation based on the new injury to his back.
The Meaning of “Work-Related” Injuries
An injury covered under the workers’ compensation act must be a work-related injury. Under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1, in order for an employee’s injury to be compensable, it has to “aris[e] out of and in the course of the employment.” Georgia courts have held that this means that there has to be a causal connection between the injury and the conditions under which the employee worked, and the risk of injury must be incidental to the employment. The claimant bears the burden of proving that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment. If a work-related injury aggravates a preexisting condition, an employee still has to prove that the preexisting condition was aggravated by an accident “arising out of and in the course of employment.”
Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you or a family member has been injured at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits even if you had a preexisting condition. At the Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., we have a track record of positive case outcomes resulting in millions of dollars in compensation. Our Georgia workers’ compensation attorneys are former insurance defense attorneys, which means that we understand the other side’s tactics. This allows us to further our clients’ cases at trial or through settlement by using this inside knowledge and experience. For a free consultation, call us at 404-920-4708 or contact us through our online form.