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Pre-existing Injuries in New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Claims

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An employee is injured on the job in New Jersey. The injury is to a body part that the employee had also injured in the past. The past injury is a condition existing prior to suffering the current work accident. If the workplace accident aggravates the pre-existing injury, the worker may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Concept of Pre-Existing Condition in bold metallic lettering highlighted with prescription medication to control symptoms

Work injuries are tricky enough. Add a pre-existing condition to the mix, and things get even more complex. But what exactly is a pre-existing injury? Think of it as an injury or illness you had before your work accident. It could be an old knee injury from your high school football days or a back issue that started years before you joined your current job.

Remember, each case is unique. What works for one person might not work for another. The law can be complex, but with the right knowledge and support, you can successfully navigate your workers’ compensation claim, even with a pre-existing condition.

Let’s imagine Joe, a seasoned warehouse worker. About five years ago, Joe had a severe back injury from a car accident that required extensive treatment and physical therapy. Fast forward to today, Joe’s back injury resurfaces after lifting heavy boxes at work. Is this a new injury or an aggravation of his previous injury?

These are the kinds of questions that come up in workers’ compensation claims involving pre-existing conditions. It’s important to note that even if Joe had a previous back injury, that fact in and of itself does not automatically disqualify him from getting workers’ compensation for his current back pain. The key question is: Did his current job aggravate his pre-existing condition? If yes, Joe’s condition may fall under what is called an “aggravated injury” in the eyes of New Jersey workers’ compensation law.

The 'Employers Take Their Employees As They Find Them' Rule in New Jersey Workers' Compensation

Under this rule, employers take on the responsibility for their workers’ health as it is at the time they are hired, regardless of pre-existing conditions or vulnerabilities. This is why even if you have a pre-existing condition, you can still receive workers’ compensation benefits if your work activity worsens that condition.

Let’s go back to our warehouse worker, Joe, and see how this rule might apply. When Joe was hired, his employer “took him as he was” — a person with a previous back injury. So, when his back condition worsened because of his job duties, his employer couldn’t escape the responsibility of workers’ compensation by pointing out that Joe’s back was already damaged.

Remember, under the “Employers Take Their Employees As They Find Them” rule, the employer is responsible for the consequences of aggravating Joe’s pre-existing back condition, even if that means Joe is more susceptible to injury or his injury is more severe than it would be in another person without that pre-existing condition.

In essence, this rule acknowledges that every worker is unique, with their own health histories and pre-existing conditions. It levels the playing field for injured workers with pre-existing conditions, ensuring they can still receive the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve if their work aggravates their conditions.

However, interpreting and applying this rule to specific cases can be complex. Workers’ compensation law in New Jersey is complicated, and insurance companies often fight these claims vigorously. This is why it is so crucial to have a New Jersey Workers Comp attorney guide you through the process.

Dictionary definition to aggravate a pre-existing condition on the job that is now made worse in the workplace.

Pre-existing Injuries vs. Aggravation of Injuries:
A Legal Distinction

When it comes to workers’ compensation in New Jersey, there’s a world of difference between a pre-existing injury and an aggravation of that injury. Understanding this distinction can be crucial to your claim.

A pre-existing condition refers to any injury, illness, or medical condition that you had before your workplace injury. In contrast, an “aggravation” of an injury occurs when your current job worsens a pre-existing condition. If your work aggravates a pre-existing condition, the subsequent problems are considered a part of your work-related injury under New Jersey law.

Consider our warehouse worker, Joe. He had a previous back injury from his car accident years before starting his current job. But when lifting heavy boxes at work made his back pain worse, that worsening is considered an “aggravation” of his pre-existing injury. Under New Jersey law, Joe could be compensated for his previous back injury aggravation.

Now, you may wonder, why does this matter? This distinction is essential because of who’s responsible for paying for your treatment.

The Pushback from Insurance Companies

In workers’ compensation cases, it’s not unusual for insurance companies to try to deny claims or reduce payments, arguing that the worker’s problems are due to a pre-existing condition, not a work-related incident. They might assert that your injury existed before your current job, and therefore, they shouldn’t be responsible for paying for your treatment.

Let’s consider our worker Joe. Joe had a back injury five years ago, which had been treated and was manageable until a recent accident at his workplace. The insurance company might argue that Joe’s current symptoms are due to the old injury acting up and not a result of the work accident.

However, remember that under New Jersey law, if your work aggravates, accelerates, or exacerbates a pre-existing condition, you’re typically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This means that even if an insurance company tries to deny your claim based on a pre-existing condition, you may still have a valid claim if your job aggravated that condition.

Navigating these distinctions can be complex, but understanding them is the first step to ensuring that your rights are protected and that you receive the benefits you’re entitled to.

Infographic Summary of Article

Key guides for a new jersey worker in claims involving pre-existing injuries

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Take the First Step Towards Justice: Reach Out to
A Skilled NJ Workers' Comp Lawyer

Going through a workplace injury is a very challenging experience for many. On top of this, you will have to navigate the complex workers’ compensation system in New Jersey. Imagine dealing with the accident while keeping track of various documents and reports. One accident alone can quickly turn into one’s worst nightmare. The complexity only increases when an injured worker presents with a pre-existing medical problem related to the current work injury. 

But you don’t have to be alone in all this. John F. Renner is a highly skilled workers’ compensation attorney with over 25 years of experience. If this is your first time filing for workers’ compensation, you won’t have to feel overwhelmed or confused. Mr. Renner will guide you through the process and ensure you understand your rights and responsibilities. With his knowledge and skill, he will help you navigate the complex system known as New Jersey Workers’ Compensation. Contact his office at (856) 596-8000.

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About the Author

John F. Renner is the founding attorney and principal of John F. Renner P.C. He has more than 25 years of experience representing injured workers in New Jersey. Mr. Renner guides his clients through the complex maze of New Jersey Workers Compensation Law for the best possible outcome.

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