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Workers' compensation is payable for aggravation of prior injury

In Colorado and all other jurisdictions, the work-related exacerbation of a preexisting condition resulting in a disability from work is compensable. Workers’ compensation benefits must be paid to an employee whose post-traumatic stress disorder was exacerbated by a work-related incident, according to a recent appellate court decision in another state. Even a slender connection between the aggravating factor and the employment is sufficient to support benefits, the court held.

The claimant was a former assistant manager for a supermarket. He became a victim of intense harassment at the hands of the spouse of a co-worker after he called the coworker at home to discuss a business-related matter. The husband was convinced that they were having an affair, and he went so far as to attempt to hire someone to kill the claimant.

The claimant became unable to work from the resulting stress and pressure and his preexisting post-traumatic stress was triggered anew. He applied for workers’ compensation benefits, but the employer claimed that the trauma was not work-related. A New York workers’ compensation judge decided that the injury was in fact work-related because the call to the co-worker was work-related, and the claimant’s problems all sprung from that call.

The company appealed, and the state Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed. The New York appellate court affirmed also, stating that any nexus, however slender, between the motivation for the assault and the employment was sufficient to support an award of benefits. The court affirmed the compensation judge’s reasoning that the phone call was work-related and it was the stimulus for everything that followed.

A similar result may be reasonably expected under Colorado law. The exacerbation of a preexisting condition is one of those workers’ compensation claims that employers tend to contest more often than others. The reasoning is probably that they have a chance of convincing the courts that the exacerbation did not occur at work. It takes a concerted, focused and aggressive effort on behalf of the claimant to successfully assert the workers’ rights in such cases.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Employee Wins Comp Benefits in N.Y. After Run-In With Co-Worker's Husband", , July 18, 2014

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