In most cases, yes. You can receive workers’ compensation for an injury, even if you have prior injuries. However, there are some important caveats. In order to explain this, it’s important for you to understand exactly what workers’ compensation is and what it’s designed to accomplish. If you’ve been hurt on the job, trust David Aylor Law Offices to help you get paid for your injury. Consultations are free, so you have nothing to lose. Contact us today.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
South Carolina workers’ compensation laws are designed to do two basic things. First, workers’ compensation laws prevent an employee from filing a lawsuit against the company. In fact, your exclusive remedy (meaning sole option) is to file a claim for workers’ compensation. Your employer must by law maintain workers’ compensation insurance, which will provide compensation in the event of a workplace accident or injury.
Second, however, the law is designed to ensure that you, as the injured worker, have a way to obtain compensation without having to file a lawsuit and prove negligence on the part of your employer. In theory, this is a great balance. In practice, the law often makes employees jump through countless unnecessary hoops. This often makes it necessary to fight hard for compensation that truthfully should be paid without much of a fight.
What About Prior Injuries?
Workers’ compensation benefits are supposed to pay for injuries you incurred on the job. Let’s say you hurt your back three years ago at home while doing yard work. Now, you suffer a minor fall at work, go to the doctor, and the doctor says that you injured yourself on the job. Your employer may question whether your injury is really due to the present work injury or because of the old injury. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the two.
Fortunately, Section 42-9-35 of the South Carolina Code deals with this very issue. The law says, in part, that the employee must establish one of the following:
(1) The work injury aggravated the prior condition or impairment; or
(2) The prior condition or impairment aggravates the work injury.
What Type of Proof is Needed?
The law says you must prove the aggravation by a preponderance of the evidence. This standard has generally been held to mean “more likely than not.” In other words, if it is at least 51 percent or more likely that the aggravation exists and was due to the work injury, then you should be compensated. You can use a number of things to prove your case, ranging from lay testimony of witnesses who saw the accident or incident occur, to medical opinions from treating physicians and consulting experts.
What if the Employer Never Knew About the Prior Condition or Impairment?
It doesn’t matter. The law still permits compensation. However, the law does allow the employer and their experts to question the severity of the injury and whether it was wholly or in part already of the same severity. In other words, the employer can challenge whether the aggravation has objectively made the condition worse or not.