If you have an injury at work, you have rights under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation law: the right to pick your own doctors, the right to have your employer pay all of the medical bills (without any co-pays), the right to be paid weekly benefits if you are unable to work, and the right to pursue a settlement once you have finished medical treatment. But what if the problem is considered a pre-existing condition? In Illinois, any pre-existing condition which is aggravated or made worse by an injury is covered under workers’ compensation. As the Illinois Supreme Court described, “When workers’ physical structures, diseased or not, give way under the stress of their usual tasks, the law views it as an accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” Translated into English, this means that where an injury is an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, it may be completely covered without anything taken away because of the prior condition. Even if some of the symptoms are from a pre-existing condition, as long as that condition was aggravated, exacerbated, or made worse by the new injury, then the injured person may be entitled to full workers’ compensation benefits.
A classic example of this can be found with rotator cuff tears. The “Rotator Cuff” is the term for four muscles in the shoulder which stabilize the shoulder and help move the arm. The rotator cuff can be torn by any number of things, including lifting injuries, traction injuries (such as reaching out to avoid a fall), or by wear and tear over time. Sometimes people can have tears in the rotator cuff and don’t even know it because tears of the rotator cuff are not always painful. Sometimes a person has an injury at work to his or her shoulder and discovers that he or she now has pain because they have aggravated a pre-existing rotator cuff tear; but now this person is unable to do the lifting that they used to do at work because of the rotator cuff tear. This is a situation where an injured worker qualifies for workers’ compensation because they have aggravated a pre-existing condition.
Katz Friedman recently dealt with this situation in a recent case for client “E.C.” She was simply doing her normal job when she lifted something heavy and felt a stabbing pain in her shoulder. An MRI showed that her rotator cuff had a large tear which had been present before her injury, though she had never noticed a problem before. Katz Friedman fought for her, took her case to arbitration, established that her injury was covered under workers’ compensation and was able to negotiate a settlement for her.