Articles Posted in Work Aggravations To Pre-Existing Conditions

MENTAL INJURIES ARE COMPENSATED AS INDUSTRIAL DISABILITY INJURIES. Under Iowa law mental injuries are compensable in the workers’ compensation system. Mental injuries are unscheduled injuries. Therefore, the emphasis in figuring out the amount of damages is based on determining how much the mental injury reduces the injured worker’s future earning capacity. (See here and here for longer discussions on how industrial disability injuries are valued).

AGGRAVATION OF PRE-EXISTING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. Similar to physical injuries, an aggravation of a pre-existing mental health issue is still compensable under Iowa law as long as the aggravation is substantial. As an example, look at the Iowa Supreme Court case of Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Pease, 807 N.W.2d 839 (Iowa 2011). In the Pease case the claimant did have a pre-existing history of depression. However, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, and later the Iowa Supreme Court, found that the claimant’s physical injury caused a substantial aggravation of her depression, and that the claimant was entitled to receive weekly benefits for this increase in her depression.

MENTAL-MENTAL INJURIES. Mental health injuries that arise without physical injury are frequently called “mental-mental” injuries. By contrast, mental injuries which are connected to a physical work injury are called “physical-mental” injuries. There are some important differences in how these two different types of mental injuries are treated. I will first talk about mental-mental injuries.

Frequently a worker will have a pre-existing health condition. The pre-existing condition can be the result of numerous causes, including but not limited to the natural aging process, a prior work injury, or an accident unrelated to work.

Sometimes a pre-existing condition will make the worker more susceptible to a work injury. For example, a worker that has had prior shoulder or back surgery might be injured doing a job that would not have hurt a worker who did not have a pre-existing problem. The worker with the pre-existing condition is sometimes called an “eggshell plaintiff” because they are more easily injured than an average person. However, under Iowa work comp law even though a worker might be an eggshell plaintiff, if he gets hurt on the job he is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Sometimes a worker may have a pre-existing condition that is completely latent or symptom free and does not cause him any problems. If a worker with such an asymptomatic condition is injured on the job he will generally be entitled to be compensated for the entire resulting disability from the injury even though the final disability is caused by a combination of the pre-existing condition and the work injury.