• Erin Gallivan

Worsening of a Degenerative Condition and Workers Comp: Does It Apply to You?

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

Imagine that you have a preexisting condition, such as arthritis or degenerative disc disease, and it becomes worse as a result of the work you do. In legal terms, this situation is known as “degenerative aggravation” and the good news is - it’s covered by workers comp in Vermont. (Usually.)

Arthritis is a common degenerative condition

Let’s take a look at the details, and some workers comp cases here in Vermont that can offer insight into what should be covered. These cases should help give you a sense of what is considered aggravation, and what might be covered by workers comp. Of course, if you have questions and are not sure if you are eligible for benefits, you can always contact us.

What Is Aggravation in the World of Workers Comp?

When someone has a preexisting problem and a work injury or their work environment makes the condition worse, the claim would be covered by workers comp. In fact, even in a situation where the condition is degenerative and would eventually have gotten worse on its own, if a doctor establishes that the work injury caused it to worsen faster, or made the disability come about sooner, that is also considered an aggravation.

In Stannard v. Stannard, 2003 VT 52 (May 29, 2003) an employee had preexisting osteoarthritis in his knee, but did not have any symptoms until he was injured at work. After the work injury, he experienced immediate ongoing pain and loss of function. Ultimately, he needed a knee replacement. “Under these circumstances, it is not necessary to guess when, if ever, Claimant would have come to knee replacement surgery had the work injury never occurred. It is enough to know that as a consequence of the work injury, he came to it sooner than he otherwise would have.”

However, if the symptoms worsen from a work injury, but there is no change to the underlying condition, it is not an aggravation. In Judith Skovira, Op. No. 09-12WC, Vt. Dept. Lab. Ind. Mar. 29, 2012, the employee had a long-standing problem with her knee which was troubling her through time of work incident. Her symptoms worsened after two falls at work, but were similar to prior problems. In order to be compensable, Claimant would have to show the falls aggravated or accelerated the pathology, it was not enough only that symptoms worsened.

Wondering If You Are Eligible for Workers Comp?

If your preexisting injury or illness has worsened lately, and a doctor says it was worsened by work, contact us. We will be more than happy to help you understand your rights.

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