Will Workers’ Compensation Cover My Second Injury?
A client recently called to let me know that she needs treatment for her right arm. She has a pending workers’ compensation case for injuries to her left arm that she sustained while lifting a heavy garbage can at work. For nearly four years, she has been using her right arm for all activities of daily living while she recovers from the injuries to her left arm. Her doctor told her that her right arm was injured because she favored it for so many years while the left arm was healing. Her question was: will workers’ compensation pay for treatment to my right arm?
Under the “natural consequences” doctrine, the answer is yes. An injured worker must show that his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment in order to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Once he has made this showing, every natural consequence that flows from the original injury is covered. A useful article addressing causation issues in these types of cases from a doctor’s perspective can be found here.
The courts apply a “but for” test in determining whether a subsequent injury is compensable under workers’ compensation. This means that a subsequent injury or disability is compensable if it was directly caused by an event that would not have occurred but for the original work-related injury. We frequently see this situation when a second injury occurs due to treatment for the original injury. For example, an infection that develops after surgery for a work-related injury is considered a compensable injury: but for the original injury, the surgery would not have been performed, and the infection would not have developed.
Even if not directly caused by the first injury, a second injury is still compensable if it would not have occurred but for the injured worker’s weakened condition following his original work-related injury. An injured worker who fractured his leg at work, then falls down the stairs at home because his fractured leg was weakened and not fully healed, has suffered compensable injuries. Similarly, an injured worker who falls and breaks his wrist after his leg gives out after a work-related knee surgery is entitled to medical treatment and compensation for his broken wrist.
At Woodruff Johnson & Palermo, we have seen this type of case many times. Most recently, a worker at a major state university suffered an injury to his left shoulder while moving boxes in a supply room. He began therapy and was placed on restrictions of right-handed work only. Ultimately, he had surgery on his left shoulder. After several months of relying primarily on his right shoulder, he developed pain in his right shoulder that gradually worsened. We successfully argued before the Illinois Appellate Court that his right shoulder condition resulted from an overuse of that arm while undergoing treatment to his left shoulder. Our client was awarded not only medical benefits for the treatment to his right shoulder but also TTD benefits for the time he was off work recovering from his right shoulder injuries.
Don’t let the insurance company convince you that your subsequent injuries are not compensable. If your injuries would not have occurred but for your work injury, you are entitled to benefits, including lost wages and medical treatment. Contact an attorney at Woodruff Johnson & Palermo for a free consultation.