A study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) found that workers with disabilities were more than twice as likely to experience occupational injuries than those without disabilities. The study was based on data obtained by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) which used computer-assisted personal interviews to collect information about injuries. The researchers were part of an institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Ohio State University. The study was published online in the American Journal of Public Health. The study also found that people with disabilities experienced non-occupational injuries more than three times those for workers without disabilities. The author of the study noted that increases in occupational injuries to workers with disabilities showed the need for better accommodation and safety programs in the workplace.
In most States, as in Wisconsin, a basic principle of law is that the presence of a pre-existing weakness does not disqualify the worker from worker’s compensation benefits.
From a worker’s compensation perspective, disability and lost work time stemming directly from a work accident presents a straightforward assessment on causation. The circumstances of an accidental injury superimposed on a pre-existing, progressively deteriorating condition is a trickier question. In most States, as in Wisconsin, a basic principle of law is that the presence of a pre-existing weakness does not disqualify the worker from worker’s compensation benefits. This approach is not unique to worker’s compensation. It has always been a basic principle of English and American personal injury law that you “take your victims as you find them.” When worker’s compensation laws were adopted early in the 20th Century, this approach was carried over into virtually all States. Wisconsin courts, and most other States, have accepted the premise that an employer takes an employee “as is” and so the worker’s susceptibility or predisposition to injury does not relieve the present employer from liability for worker’s compensation.
Employers find this “As Is” principle a particularly difficult principle to accept. If a worker suffers only a minor work injury but is seriously disabled because of a pre-existing condition, it seems to them unfair to make the employer bear all the costs of disability. However, an economic argument supports this principle. Worker’s compensation benefits should reflect the change in a worker’s earning capacity resulting from a work injury. Nearly all worker’s compensation benefits are based upon the worker’s earnings prior to the injury – in Wisconsin the Average Weekly Wage. If the pre-existing condition affected the worker’s prior earning capacity, it would be reflected in reduced wages, and thus, reduce benefits. If the condition did not affect the earning capacity, then it should not be considered in determining benefits.