WHAT INJURIES AND DISABILITIES ARE COVERED BY WORKERS’ COMPENSATION?
The workers’ compensation system is supposed to provide for employees’ injuries and disabilities “arising out of and in the course of employment.” In many cases, it is obvious that an injury arose on the job; e.g. when a worker’s hand is caught in a press or a worker falls from a platform in the plant. The connection with the workplace is not always so obvious.
There does not need to be an actual crippling “accident” at work, for a disability to be compensable. When a worker is regularly exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace for many years and the exposure causes an occupational disease or injury, that worker should still be covered under workers’ compensation. (There are, however, some special rules and limitations in Chapter 4 of the Act that apply to disabilities which are characterized as “occupational diseases.”)
A pre-existing condition is not supposed to be a bar to the receipt of workers’ compensation benefits. It has been a principle of Anglo-American injury law for hundreds of years that a tortfeasor takes his victim as he finds him. If work caused, aggravated, contributed to or accelerated a disabling condition, it is supposed to be compensable according to legal principles enunciated by the Michigan Supreme Court in the early 1900’s when the compensation act was enacted. In recent years, the conservative Michigan Supreme Court has been requiring proof that the work injury is “medically distinguishable” from what existed before the injury. The Republican Legislature also amended the statute in 2011 so that workers injured after December 19, 2011 will be statutorily required to show that a work injury resulted in “new pathology.”
In Michigan, since 1982, the employee must show that the employment contributed or aggravated conditions of the aging process, and cardiovascular conditions, in a significant manner in order to be compensable. The law also recognizes that actual events of employment which significantly cause, aggravate or contribute to disabling mental conditions are compensable. If a worker was injured after December 19, 2011, proof of significant aggravation is now required in ‘degenerative arthritis’ cases.
The general rule is that workers are not covered by workers’ compensation on their way to and from work; however, there are many exceptions to this rule which we attorneys specializing in this area would explore. Section 301(3) of the Act provides that “An employee going to or from his or her work, while on the premises where the employee’s work is to be performed, and within a reasonable time before and after his or her working hours, is presumed to be in the course of his or her employment.” A worker is therefore covered by workers’ compensation if injured during lunch hour while on the company premises or if injured in the company parking lot on his or her way to or from work.