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How are pre-existing conditions dealt with for purposes of workers’ compensation?

In our last post, we began discussing the issue of back injuries and conditions as they impact those in the field of health care, and workers in general. As we noted, the widespread pre-existence of back ailments among American workers brings up the issue of when an on-the-job back injury should or should not be considered an injury which would qualify for workers’ compensation.

We’ve already briefly discussed the issue of aggravation under California Workers’ Compensation law. Here, we want to look at the important principle of apportionment. According to the California Department of Human Resources, apportionment comes into the picture whenever it is determined that an on-the-job injury has aggravated a pre-existing condition. 

Apportionment pertains to the issue of causation, or the factors which contributed to the permanent aggravation of a preexisting injury. State law prescribes that a physician is to make a determination regarding the relative degree of contribution a work-related injury made to the worker’s permanent disability. The employer is only held liable for to the degree that the work-related injury directly caused the disability.

Needless to say, apportionment—like aggravation determinations—can be a source of disagreement between workers and their employers. The degree to which a workplace injury contributed to an increase in permanent disability is not something that can always be proven conclusively. It is possible to appeal in cases where one disagrees with a determination, though navigating the system isn’t necessarily a piece of cake. Working with an attorney experienced in the area of workers’ compensation disputes can, therefore, be a great help.

Source: California Department of Human Resources, “Workers’ Compensation Preview,” January 2014. 

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