As we all get older with age, our body tends to wear down. Like all things human, the rate and severity of a wear and tear from aging varies from person to person.
Age-related degenerative medical conditions
Medically speaking, many refer to the term musculoskeletal aging as “degenerative” or “arthritic” changes. Most human adults are going to experience these changes. However, they do not always cause symptoms such as pain, limitation of movement, and others. In general, doctors can determine the severity of the changes through an X-ray or MRI test.
Because of aging, our body may also be more prone to injuries or illness, including work injury and occupation disease. If you suffer an injury on the job, our age and degenerative changes can sometimes complicate matters. In fact, they can make it more difficult to find the cause for a certain medical condition. For example, after an injury at work, did the work injury cause the medical condition? Or is it the person’s age and the natural aging process?
Denying medical condition in L&I claim
Personally, it’s very common to see the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) denying these bodily changes under a workers’ compensation claim. That’s because L&I considers the changes as degenerative. In other words, they often argue that the cause isn’t the workplace injury or work illness (or work-related exposure). However, in my opinion, this assessment is wrong in many cases. Moreover, the Industrial Insurance Act contains clear legal principles concerning causation in the context of aging.
Workers compensation claim in Washington State: The law
In Washington State, workers’ compensation covers all workers regardless of their age or prior health. When considering the impact that a work injury or workplace exposure has on a person, the basis for the consideration must be the individual worker. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what the impact of similar workplace injury or illness might have on some other persons. However, having said that, we must take into account preexisting conditions. And when we do, we must examine their status, i.e., what each condition was like previously.
Say that a person with an L&I claim or workers’ compensation claim had a condition that wasn’t causing any problems. According to the law, if the work injury or occupational disease made it symptomatic, then the condition is causally-related. Similarly, take another example where a person with a work injury claim had a condition that was causing problems. Here, if the work accident or illness made the condition worse, then it’s also causally related.
The age factor
Hence, in every workers’ compensation claim, we have to pay special attention to conditions that can worsen with age. As we get older, more medical conditions may surface with our natural aging process. Yet, it doesn’t preclude L&I from accepting the medical condition under an L&I claim. Most importantly, with every workers’ comp claim, it’s critical to examine the facts that pertain to the individual claimant, including his/her conditions, now and in the past.