Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Laws and Aggravation Injuries: What You Should Know

A common and pressing question involves aggravation injuries with workers compensation in Minnesota and whether said injuries are covered by workers’ compensation. Under the law, for an injury or other medical condition to be compensable, the worker’s regular work activities must be a substantial contributing factor for his or her current condition.

Employers are not obligated to address their employees’ personal health issues. Everyone brings their own personal health conditions to a new job. Employers assume the risk that an employee’s work activity may aggravate or exacerbate a preexisting medical condition, thus placing the burden of covering the workers’ comp claim on the current employer.

Work Activities Must Provide a Substantial Contributing Factor to Injury/Condition Aggravation

In Minnesota, for an injured worker’s claim to be covered by workers’ compensation, it is only necessary that his or her work activities contributed to the condition. These activities do not have to be the only cause, but they do have to be a substantial contributing factor that resulted in acceleration, aggravation, or exacerbation of the preexisting condition.

Gillette Injuries Minnesota & Workers Compensation

In Gillette v. Harold, Inc. 257 Minn. 313, 101 N.W. (2d) 200 (1960), the Minnesota Supreme Court established the standard for workers’ compensation when a worker’s current job duties aggravate a preexisting medical condition. In this case, the petitioner developed a non-work-related medical condition in one of her toes that required surgery. Since she was on her feet all day as part of her position as a store salesperson, her injury resulted in partial disability as a result of incremental aggravation of the preexisting condition and culminated in partial disability. The Court held that the resulting disability was a work-related injury that satisfied workers’ compensation requirements.

This case resulted in the Gillette analysis; the standard for all similar Minnesota cases. This analysis requires examination of the injured worker’s required job duties and medical evidence to determine if the work causes ongoing, incremental aggravation of a preexisting condition or injury. Of primary importance is that the original injury need not be work-related to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

More recently, Vanda v. Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co., 218 N.W.2d 458 (1974), provides a clearer evaluation of this issue. This case arose from a workers’ compensation claim that dealt with exacerbation of an employee’s prior back injury that resulted in a 30% disability. Even though the petitioner had medical experts who testified that it was his work duties that directly led to the injury’s aggravation, the employer argued that it should only be held liable for a portion of the subsequent disability. The court held that “when the usual tasks ordinary to an employee’s work substantially aggravate, accelerate, or combine with a pre-existing disease or latent condition to produce a disability, the entire disability is compensable, no apportionment being made on the basis of relative causal contribution of the pre-existing condition and the work activities.” In other words, Vanda’s employer was liable under the law for the entire condition’s compensability.

Making a Determination

In aggravation injury cases, the judge will consider several factors to determine workers’ compensation eligibility:

  • Whether the aggravation is permanent or temporary
  • The nature and severity of the preexisting condition and the extent of disability or restrictions resulting from the condition
  • The nature and severity of the aggravating incident and extent of disability or restrictions
  • The nature of the symptoms and extent of medical intervention both prior to and after the aggravating incident
  • The nature and extent of the employee’s work duties and non-work activities
  • Medical opinions

This last aspect is particularly important because physicians can claim that a condition is degenerative and pre-dates an injury even if the individual never had problems or sought treatment. Having the right experts makes a world of difference.

Addressing Denials

The most common cause of workers’ compensation denials and disputes involves preexisting conditions. Generally, if an employee is injured while on the job, any evidence of a preexisting condition typically results in an automatic denial by the insurance company. As long as there is concrete evidence as to the condition and how the worker’s job duties significantly contributed to the aggravation of said condition, then there is a greater likelihood of the worker getting workers’ compensation benefits.

Even though a workers’ compensation claim may be denied, a skilled and knowledgeable attorney can fight for the employee’s rights. For more information or to schedule a consultation for your workers’ compensation case, please contact us.