We get a lot of questions about jobsite injuries—and it’s no wonder. These kinds of cases can sometimes be extremely complex, and workers can be blindsided by how hard their employer’s insurance company might fight to reduce the amount they must pay out. This can especially be the case when a worker has injuries that existed prior to the work accident or is injured again after an accident.
If you have a preexisting injury or have been hurt again since your injury at work, it’s important to be prepared to carefully protect your rights as you pursue compensation for what happened. Your employer cannot deny your worker’s compensation benefits for either of these conditions, but many companies will take advantage of workers who aren’t aware of their rights. No matter where you work, here are some things you should know about preexisting injuries and intervening injuries.
Preexisting injuries in work injury cases
A preexisting injury is an injury that happened before you started your job. For example, if you broke your shoulder years ago playing highschool football, that would be a preexisting injury.
Many companies will refuse to take responsibility for injuries that happen on the job if they can—and if they discover you had an injury before the accident, they may use it as an excuse to deny compensation. However, a preexisting condition does not disqualify you from getting worker's compensation or suing an employer for negligence in causing a new injury.
So, when that friendly-sounding insurance adjuster asks you to "sign some forms," think twice. Most of the time, those forms include medical authorizations which will allow the insurance company unfettered access to your entire personal medical history. Most of your medical history would never be allowed in a personal injury case by a judge, but the insurance company doesn't care about that. They want to fish through your entire medical background to find some excuse, any excuse, to deny your claim. Most of the time, they are looking for a "pre-existing condition," even if the condition has nothing at all to do with your injury. Of course, the adjuster does not tell you this is why they want you to sign the forms.
Nor does the adjuster tell you why they need information on your friends and family. The truth is that this lets them fish around for information they can use to deny your claim, including information they can construe as a "pre-existing condition."
The insurance company will also likely check "index information" on you. This is a database that all insurance companies share, reflecting any insurance claim you have ever made in your life. It doesn't matter if your prior insurance claims have nothing to do with your current claim or injuries, the insurance company will dig them up and try to use them against you.
The reality on "pre-existing conditions" is this: state laws dictate what types of pre-existing conditions will be allowed in a personal injury case. There are rules that must be followed. If the prior condition has nothing to do with your current condition or injuries, then a judge won't allow it in the case. On the other hand, if you had a prior condition to the same body part or had a similar injury in the past, then most likely that condition will be allowed in the case.
The problem is, on the front end of your claim, before you have filed a lawsuit (and perhaps before you have even hired an attorney), the insurance company plays by its own rules. There is no judge who will rule on what is allowed to be considered in your injury claim. In the insurance company's view, everything is fair game. Any prior condition is considered by the insurance company to be a "pre-existing condition." That's why the insurance industry works so hard on training its adjusters to fish for this information as soon as you make your claim.
Although a preexisting condition, like a former injury or an underlying issue, may complicate your potential work injury claim, it will not normally completely prevent you from seeking damages. Generally, if it can be proven that your employer was responsible for an injury that caused medical issues that would not have otherwise been aggravated, you can still recover damages. In some cases, it may even be proven that the underlying condition and new injury are unrelated, and that you should receive full compensation despite the pre-existing condition. However, because so many workers are unaware of their rights and the tricks of the insurance trade, it is very important that you speak with an attorney of your choosing about the details of your case, your rights, and how to be successful with your claim. You should discuss matters related to past injuries and pre-existing conditions the first time you meet your attorney.
Intervening injuries in work injury cases
An intervening injury happens when a worker is already hurt from a workplace injury and then another work injury aggravates the previous injury. One common cause of intervening injuries is returning to work too soon after an injury. Some employers pressure workers who are not fully healed to return to work, but doing so could seriously impact the worker’s recovery. The consequences could even be permanent. An intervening injury may also be caused by injury treatment, such as physical therapy or repeated surgeries, or a second accident.
An intervening injury can happen suddenly, extending your healing time and complicating your recovery from the original accident. To add to the complication, insurance carriers don’t like to pay out on large injury claims, even when they happen at work. If you suffered an injury in the daily course of your work, such as repetitive strain or knee-joint weakness, then another incident made it worse, insurance carriers can argue that you already had an injury and do not qualify for benefits. Although both injuries are a result of your work, your employer and its insurance company may twist the facts to suggest that neither injury is their fault, denying you the compensation you need for medical treatment, lost wages, and future disability benefits.
An intervening injury can quickly change the course of a work injury case if the victim isn’t aware of his or her rights and the potential legal complications. If you are injured again after an initial work injury, it is very important that you talk with an attorney about how the new injury may affect your case.
Get help making sense of your rights after you are hurt at work in Texas
If you suffered an injury at work, keep in mind that you’re not alone. Your first step should be to see your doctor and keep documentation of all treatments you receive. Prompt medical attention, regular follow-up appointments, adherence with treatment, and good records of your treatment will be key evidence in your railroad injury case—so make sure you see a doctor and follow his or her orders to the letter. Let your doctor know about both the recent accident and the pre-existing condition.
Next, do NOT talk to the company’s insurance adjuster, as he or she will likely try to get you to admit fault or liability for your accident. Third, it’s important to seek the advice of an attorney with experience in work-related injury cases. He or she can explain how your preexisting or intervening injury will affect your case and what to expect.
If successful, the settlement you receive in a work injury case can help you pay for your injury costs, including:
- Extended treatment. A second injury can undo the healing process you have gone through, forcing you to start your treatments over. This may include rehabilitation, surgery, and other treatments.
- Healing complications. A new accident or injury can lead to complications like infection, improper healing, or additional surgeries.
- Nerve damage. If you have recovered from an initial injury and are hurt again, you may be at risk of nerve damage, including permanent loss of feeling, numbness, or “pins and needles.”
- Disability. A victim may be unable to perform his or her job or take similar work in the future if the new injury has added to permanent or long-term limitations and symptoms.
Remember that the only way to know for sure whether you can expect compensation in your case is by speaking with an experienced attorney who can review your specific circumstances. To help you better understand how our attorneys might be able to help you, here are two real-life examples of preexisting injury cases we’ve handled in the past:
- Airport bus company settles lawsuit from injured driver
- Retailer settles lawsuit after worker suffers wrist injury
Although you may have expected that your employer would be on your side if you were ever hurt on the clock, the reality is that a lot of workers have to fight for the help they deserve. Whether your job made your preexisting condition worse or injured you outright, you deserve fair compensation for your suffering. If you were denied your rightful benefits, or if your employer is using a second injury against you, talk to the experienced injury attorneys at VB Attorneys at 1-877-724-7800.