By Brent Adams
North Carolina law provides that if a worker suffers a
specific traumatic incident which worsens a preexisting injury or defect in the
back, then the worker is entitled to workers' compensation benefits as a result
of the worsening of the preexisting back condition.
An example of that law arose in the case of Queen v.
Penske Corp. in this case, the worker was born with a back condition known as
lumbar spinal stenosis.
In addition to this preexisting condition, the worker
sustained a back injury at work while lifting a tire.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission ordered that the
employer pay for the employee's surgery at some point in the future. This order
was authorized by a North Carolina law, N.C.G.S. section 97-25.1 which provides
that if the Industrial Commission determines that there is a substantial risk
of the need for further surgery, the Industrial Commission may order the
payment of that future surgery. This is true even though surgery would not be
recommended at the time the order was issued.
The case was appealed to the North Carolina Court of
Appeals. The appeals court noted that even though the injured worker's doctor
said that his underlying back condition was congenital (existed at birth),
since the doctor also stated that a work related lifting incident caused the
worker's pain and would be the reason the worker would need surgery, the
doctor's testimony supported the Industrial Commission's finding and conclusion
that the worker's medical expenses were related to his compensable injury.
The doctor testified as follows: "I do not know exactly
how much back trouble he had prior to the time he lifted the tire. He did not
see me for it if he had back trouble and I think that if he had no pain prior
to the time he lifted the tire and he had pain after he lifted the tire, then
it's related to lifting the tire."
The doctor also stated that if the worker had surgery: "It
would be for the lumbar spinal stenosis, which is congenital, and I think the
reason he'd have to have surgery is because that - either that got worse or he
kept injuring himself trying to do the type of work he does."
The lesson to be learned from this case is that workers
are entitled to be compensated for their on-the-job injuries even if the injury
is partially caused by a preexisting condition. If the accident or specific
traumatic incident at work exacerbates a preexisting condition, that fact would
support an order for payment of workers' compensation benefits.
For more information on this subject matter, please refer
to the section on