MISSOURI WORKERS COMPENSATION LAW APPLIED TO AGGRAVATION OF PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS
A guide to claims for compensation for workplace injuries to parts of the body already affected by pre-existing conditions.
BACKGROUND UNDER MISSOURI LAWWorkers with back injuries, or carpal tunnel syndrome, or some other preexisting degenerative condition may face the question of whether their symptoms are caused by work-related activities. Missouri law entitles employees to workers' compensation benefits if they can prove that the preexisting condition was "aggravated or accelerated" by a new "injury" sustained in their employment activities. In other words, work-related functions must result in an identifiable "injury" before compensation is available for worsening of a pre-existing physical condition, or causing a latent condition to surface.
INJURY MUST "ARISE OUT OF" AND "IN THE COURSE OF" EMPLOYMENTIn Missouri, a worker is entitled to workers' compensation if he or she can demonstrate that his or her injury "arises out of and is in the course of" employment. An injured worker must prove both elements to qualify for workers' compensation. Missouri courts have interpreted the phrase "arises out of" to mean an injury related in some way to the risks connected with or incidental to the employment. Essentially, this means an injury has to be caused by an employment-related activity. The phrase "in the course of" refers to the time, place and circumstances of an injury.
THE WORK-RELATED ACTIVITY MUST BE THE "PREVAILING" CAUSE OF THE INJURYIf a work-related activity causes an injury, an employee with a preexisting physical condition is entitled to workers' compensation benefits. It's important to note that the work-related activities must be the prevailing cause of the injury. If an employee is injured by an underlying condition not related to a specific work task he or she most likely will not be compensated. For example, a worker may suffer from seizures. If the worker happens to have a seizure on the job, workers' compensation will not cover any injuries caused by a fall from blacking out.
MERE AGGRAVATION NOT ENOUGHIn contrast, workers' compensation will likely cover injuries such as a herniated disc or arthritis if those injuries are aggravated or accelerated by specific work task as long as a work-related "injury" causes the aggravation or acceleration. For example, a forklift operator who constantly twists and turns his neck and back while operating the machine may worsen an underlying degenerative spinal condition. Without a new, identifiable "injury", workers compensation will likely not cover the injuries even though the man's job tasks aggravated the degenerative conditions. Workers' compensation would likely cover a worker suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome if his or her job required repeated motions using the affected joints. The carpal tunnel injuries occurred in the workplace and were caused by specific requirements of the worker's job. Someone with a preexisting disease, such as diabetes, will be likely compensated for an injury suffered on the job that accelerates a particular underlying condition. For example, let's say a diabetic truck driver sprains his ankle during a delivery, and then suffers the onset of a more serious bone and joint condition caused by the diabetes. He can receive workers' compensation, even though the diabetes made him predisposed to his eventual condition, because the accelerating event (a new, identifiable "injury") was related to a work task. In contrast, someone with a heart disease who suffers a heart attack while sitting up from an office chair will likely not be compensated. The heart attack was caused by a normal daily activity (getting out of a chair) unrelated to any specific job duty. If you have been injured on the job and are told that you are not entitled to benefits because of a preexisting degenerative condition, it's important that you consult with an attorney to assess your legal rights. Paul E. Evans has practiced Personal Injury, Workers Compensation, Family and Domestic legal matters in private practice for twenty years.. He is presently Owner/Managing Attorney of BLUE SPRINGS LAW OFFICE, a Blue Springs, MO law firm (He holds his JD with University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and his BA with the University of Missouri Kansas City. The foregoing is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.