In some cases, an employee may be entitled to compensation and disability coverage for a workplace incident even if the employee has a pre-existing condition contributing to the situation.
In a recent New Jersey Worker’s Compensation case, Haynes v. Hall Construction, the Compensation Judge found in favor of the plaintiff. Mr. Haynes worked for Hall Construction and was responsible for hauling 25-30 trash bags of refuse weighing nearly 50 pounds down several flights of steps to a dumpster. During that process, he began to develop shortness of breath and “tingling” in his arms. Later that day, he developed chest pain. After being admitted to the hospital, it was determined that Mr. Haynes had a heart attack.
The examining doctor found that while Mr. Haynes did have pre-existing stenosis in his heart, his work duties exacerbated his condition. Since Mr. Haynes’ work effort was in excess of the rigors of the claimant's daily living and the cause of the cardiac injury was job related in a "material degree,” he was eligible for workers compensation.
Employers should pay attention to limitations on employees’ job duties and take steps to make sure employees can properly and safely do their jobs. Even with a pre-existing condition, the threshold for workers compensation and disability payments may be low. Employers must be aware of the type of work their employees are conducting and implement policies and procedures to help mitigate risks associated with any type of strenuous work that could exacerbate employees’ conditions, whether known or unknown.