When a worker gets hurt in an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment, that injury by accident is compensable. N.C.G.S. § 97-2(6). Put simply, if you get hurt at work you can get payment for your injury. That is the fundamental rule of workers’ compensation. An important corollary to that fundamental rule is that the accident does not have to be the sole cause of a workers’ pain or limitations in order to be compensable. If a worker has a preexisting condition that is aggravated or exacerbated by an on the job injury by accident, the injury can be compensable. An injury by accident at work is compensable even if it is merely a contributing cause. Roman v. Southland Transp. Co., 350 N.C. 549, 515 S.E. 2d 214 (1999). “All natural consequences that result from a work-related injury are compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act.” Roper v. J.P. Stevens & Co., 65 N.C.App. 69, 73-74 308 S.E.2d 485, 488 (1983). “When a preexisting non-disabling non-job-related condition is aggravated or accelerated by an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment … so that disability results, then the employer must compensate the employee for the entire resulting disability.” Cannon v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 171 N.C.App. 254, 262, 614 S.E.2d 440, 445 (2005)(quoting, Morrison v. Burlington Industries, 304 N.C. 1, 18, 282 S.E.2d 458, 470 (1981)). That means that the Plaintiff (injured worker) need not prove that the on the job injury is the only reason that they are having pain or problems. It is sufficient to prove that the injury caused an aggravation or exacerbation of a pre-existing condition. A recent case in our office demonstrates the importance of this rule. Our client suffered from congenital narrowing of the cervical spine, which means that the nerve column in his neck was narrower than the average person since birth. He suffered an injury by accident at work when he hit his head. His orthopaedic doctor testified that he more likely than not aggravated his preexisting neck condition when he hit his head at work. He ended up requiring surgery, and could no longer perform they type of work. Importantly, he had never suffered any pain or injury to his neck prior to the injury at work. His preexisting neck condition was asymptomatic or causing him NO PAIN or LIMITATION until the accident. Even though our client in the above example had a preexisting condition, the congenital narrowing of his cervical spinal column, his injury by accident at work aggravated it, causing substantial damages. Because of the rule that “all natural consequences” of a work-related injury are compensable, our client is entitled to damages. If he can prove that the accident is compensable, then the cost of medical care, as well as weekly workers’ compensation payments, should be borne by his company (or their insurer) because he can no longer perform the same level of physical work. If you or a loved one suffered from an on the job injury, give us a call 800 – 755 – 1987.
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