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How Obesity Can Impact a Workers’ Compensation Claim

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The health effects of obesity are well-known; individuals who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, musculoskeletal disorders, and many others. Obesity is also extremely common, affecting over 40% of American adults in 2018. While obesity increases the risk of chronic health conditions, it also increases the risk of injuries, which may be compensated under the workers’ compensation program if the injuries are work-related. Overweight or obese individuals should consider speaking to an attorney before filing a workers’ compensation claim, as obesity can affect their claim. 

The Connection between Obesity and Injury 

Numerous studies have shown that the obese suffer more injuries than the non-obese. A study conducted by the Ohio State University found that individuals who are extremely obese (those with a BMI of 35 or higher) were twice as likely to injure themselves as those with a lower weight. The study also found that 26% of extremely obese men and 22% of extremely obese women reported injuries, compared with 17% and 12%, respectively. A study by Duke University found that the obese also file more workers’ compensation claims. Those with a BMI of greater than 40 filed 11.65 claims per 100 workers, compared with 5.8 claims per 100 workers with BMIs in the healthy range. 

Increased Risk of Suffering Work-Related Injuries  

Obesity puts strain on the body. While that strain can lead to serious health conditions over a long period of time, it also increases the risk that a specific work-related injury will be more severe, as strain can make the body more susceptible to injury. For example, suppose that a worker who is obese is tasked with lifting and carrying heavy boxes from one place to another. For a non-obese worker, this would be a low-risk activity. However, the obese worker’s knees are already under significantly more pressure than the non-obese worker’s, which causes the obese worker to blow out her knee when lifting the heavy box.

Obesity increases the risk of suffering a variety of injuries in the workplace, such as: 

  • Slips and falls
  • Sprained and broken bones
  • Muscle injuries due to over-exertion
  • Heat stress-related injuries
  • Joint dislocations

One less obvious complication of obesity that can lead to injuries is fatigue. Obese individuals are at a higher risk of suffering sleep apnea, which can cause nighttime breathing disruptions, impaired sleep quality, and significant daytime fatigue. Workers who are fatigued are less alert to their surroundings and react to environmental stimuli more slowly, which can lead to automobile accidents, machinery accidents, welding accidents, and many others.  

Longer and More Complex Recovery Time 

Obesity increases the risk of suffering a work-related injury, but it can also significantly lengthen the recovery time. This, in turn, increases the amount of time that the injured worker will be away from work. Obese workers who are injured on the job typically take longer to recover for several reasons: 

  • Obese individuals frequently have comorbidities (such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, etc.) that can result in complications after a workplace injury
  • Obese individuals often suffer more severe injuries because the extra weight generates more force during accident events. For example, an obese worker who slips and falls may have a harder impact on the ground, which can cause more serious injuries to stressed joints. 
  • Obese individuals with inactive lifestyles may require more extensive physical therapy after an injury to be able to return to their pre-injury activity level 
  • Surgery is an often at higher risk for obese individuals, and they are at a higher risk of suffering postoperative complications

Lengthy recovery periods for obese individuals are supported by the data. The Duke University study cited above found that the obese lost an average of 183.63 days per 100 workers, compared with only 14.19 days per 100 workers for the non-obese. The average medical costs per 100 workers were $51,019 for the obese and $7,503 for the non-obese. If you are obese and are facing an extended period of time without work, you should consider contacting an attorney.  

Get Help with Your Workers’ Compensation Claim from an Attorney 

The obese are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they suffer a work-related injury. However, workers’ compensation insurance companies frequently cite obesity as an excuse to deny a claim. To lower the chances of an obesity-related claim denial, please contact an attorney at Turley, Redmond & Rosasco by using our online form or by calling us at 877-693-2529 (New York City), 516-745-5666 (Garden City), 631-582-3700 (Ronkonkoma), or 631-399-0400 (Shirley/Riverhead).

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