Frequently, workers compensation claims boil down to medical causation. That is, whether your condition is, in part, related to your industrial injury or occupational disease/repetitive trauma. The key here is the “in part” requirement. There can be several factors contributing to your condition, such as age, arthritis, smoking, obesity, etc. However, only part of your condition must be due to the industrial injury or occupational disease/repetitive trauma. This is true even if the injury accelerates your need for a surgery you were destined to undergo in the future, regardless of the on the job injury. Workers compensations benefits are not limited to those workers in good health.
Lighting up doctrine: If you have a pre-existing condition that is “lit up” (aggravated or exacerbated) by the industrial injury or occupational disease/repetitive trauma, then it is an allowable condition. The fact that you had a pre-existing condition, or a predisposition toward a problem, does not prevent your workers’ compensation benefits.
A parallel can be drawn to the old adage about the straw that broke the camel’s back. Camels are great pack animals, and can carry a significant load for their size. One can keep loading the camel’s back and, instead of gradually bending under the load, the camel appears to suffer without complaint until the last, tiny additional weight (a straw), in which case the camel suddenly collapses. Thus, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Likewise, you may sustain a normally minor on the job injury, which is your last straw, causing that area of your body to completely give out. This would be an allowable condition. This makes sense because pre-existing conditions may make a person more susceptible to injury or cause their injury to be worse than if a person in good health sustained the same injury.
Our Supreme Court has stated that “The worker whose work acts upon a pre-existing disease to produce disability where none existed before is just as injured in his or her employment as is the worker who contracts a disease as a result of employment conditions …. The worker is to be taken as he or she is, with all his or her pre-existing
frailties and bodily infirmities.” Dennis v. Department of Labor and Indus., 109 Wn.2d 467, 745 P.2d 1295 (1987).
For example, if you have a significant amount of arthritis in your knee and you have a small misstep at work, causing additional injury to your knee requiring a knee replacement, then the surgery should be covered under workers compensation. This would be true even if you were destined to have a knee replacement in the future. The misstep was the straw that broke the camel’s back.