Aggravation of a Pre-existing Condition
A common question we encounter is whether an injury sustained at work that aggravates a pre-existing condition is covered by workers’ compensation. Generally, the answer is yes, but it depends on the facts of each case as with most other issues in workers’ compensation.
An employer must take its employees as it finds them, and an aggravation of a pre-existing condition that arises out of and in the course of employment is compensable until the aggravation ceases. “Where a previously diseased condition of a claimant [claiming] compensation under the workmen’s compensation act is aggravated by an injury or accident arising out of and in the course of the employment, and this results in disability to the claimant, there is a compensable injury.” Pruitt v. Ocean Accident & Guarantee Corp., 173 S.E. 238 (Ga. App., 1934). “It is not necessary, in order for an employee to recover compensation as an injured workman, that he must have been in perfect health or free from disease at the time he received the injury. Every workman brings with him to his employment certain infirmities; his employer takes him as he finds him and assumes the risk of a diseased condition aggravated by injury. Compensation is not made to depend upon the condition of the health of the employee, or upon his freedom from liability to injury through a constitutional weakness or latent tendency; compensation is awarded for an injury which is a hazard of the employment, and it is the hazard of the employment acting upon the particular employee in his condition of health and not what that hazard would be if acting upon a healthy employee or upon the average employee.” Griggs v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., 6 S.E.2d 180 (Ga. App., 1939).
Although there are occasions when an aggravation ceases and an injured worker returns to his pre-accident “baseline,” those occasions are rare. More often than not, the injured worker will not completely recover from an accident that was significant enough to aggravate a pre-existing condition and result in a compensable claim. A common example involves spine injuries. Most people have some degree of degenerative changes in their spine that is completely asymptomatic and goes unnoticed until an accident. If an accident at work causes those degenerative changes to become symptomatic, the employer is responsible for treatment until the symptoms cease, which seldom occurs. These cases hinge on opinions from the treating physician(s), witness testimony, and the injured worker’s testimony as to pre- and post-accident symptoms.