Yes, it’s possible to recover compensation for damages resulting from a work injury, even if you had a preexisting condition when you were hurt. Approximately two percent of all workers in Texas sustain work injuries or illnesses annually. Among employees in the warehousing, transportation, forestry, hunting, and agriculture sectors, the rate of work-related injury or disease is about 3.5%.
If you’re injured on the job due to workplace negligence, your Texas employer has a duty to restore you, physically and financially, to the state you were in before your work injury. Unlike most other states, however, Texas does not require all employers to subscribe to the state workers’ compensation insurance program, which normally covers medical bills and lost wages of workers hurt on the job. Employees of Texas companies that voluntarily subscribe to state workers’ comp generally may not sue their employers over work injuries.
Employees of Non-Subscribers May Sue
If your employer does not subscribe to the state workers’ compensation program, you may file a personal injury lawsuit against the company for your medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. In most cases, your claim will be settled out of court before it goes to trial, but the option of filing a lawsuit gives you leverage in negotiations with your non-subscribing employer.
When you file a work injury suit against your employer, the company is legally permitted to raise one or more defenses like the following in order to avoid paying your claim:
- Your injury was not caused by the employer’s negligence.
- You injured yourself intentionally.
- You were impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of your accidental injury.
- You consciously exposed yourself to a known hazard.
- Your injury is not work-related.
- Your injury is the result of a preexisting injury or condition.
Once your employer’s insurance company becomes aware of your work injury suit, it will make every effort to gain access to your medical records and try to find any previous injury or condition that it can blame for your current injury. To protect your claim, you should not sign a medical release form if asked to do so. Instead, refer all communications from the insurer to your attorney and let your lawyer do the talking.
Preexisting Conditions and Injuries
Preexisting conditions and injuries that your employer’s insurer might try to blame for your current work-related health issues include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Degenerative disc disease
- Previously broken bones
- Back injuries and herniated discs
- Joint sprains
- Neck injuries
- Muscle strains
- Spinal cord damage
- Concussions and brain injuries
Your primary objective in a work-injury lawsuit is to present evidence to prove that your current injury is the result of your work-related accident, not the result of a preexisting injury or condition.
Fighting the Insurance Company
Your employer’s insurer will try to prove just the opposite: that your preexisting condition is the primary cause of your current injury. The insurance company will have doctors and lawyers on staff to help make its case, and you’re probably no match for them even on your best day, let alone while you’re recovering from your current injuries.
You can level the playing field by seeking the help of an experienced work injury lawyer, who can call in an accident reconstructionist to prove liability for your accident. Your attorney can also work with your doctors to gather, organize, and convincingly present evidence that your preexisting condition is not the primary cause of your work injury.
The “Thin-Skull” Rule
Imagine that, for some genetic reason, your skull is as thin as an eggshell. The slightest impact from a very light object (such as a tennis ball) could fracture your skull. Someone who throws a tennis ball at your head and fractures your skull cannot raise the thinness of your skull as a defense. The fact that a person with a normal skull would not have sustained a skull fracture from a tennis ball is irrelevant to your case, and you are entitled to compensation from the party who fractured your skull. This is the “Thin-Skull” rule that Texas follows in personal injury cases.
The same rule applies to any other part of the body that is weakened or vulnerable for any reason, including a preexisting medical condition. If you had degenerative disc disease, for example, and a work accident further damaged your spine, you would still be eligible for compensation because your spinal damage was aggravated by your accident. Utilizing the thin-skull rule to prove your claim can be difficult, but an experienced lawyer will know how to apply it to your case and maximize your chances of receiving a reasonable award for your damages.