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Workers’ Compensation for Diabetes

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Diabetes is a very common condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes affects 37.3 million people in the United States, or roughly 11% of the total population. While the good news is that diabetes generally has little effect on an individual’s ability to work, it can complicate the recovery process for work-related injuries. It can also complicate workers’ compensation claims, which may require those who suffer from diabetes to seek the counsel of an attorney when filing a workers’ compensation claim. 

The Three Types of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 Diabetes: Occurs when the body produces no insulin or not enough insulin, and requires sufferers to keep a close eye on their insulin levels and take insulin shots most days. It is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. 
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Occurs when the body does not use insulin well and cannot regulate blood sugar levels. Many individuals with Type 2 diabetes do not know they have it, as it presents few symptoms. It is unknown what causes Type 2 diabetes, although it is strongly linked to being overweight. 
  • Gestational Diabetes: Occurs in pregnant women and usually dissipates after birth, but can increase the individual’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It is caused when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to overcome the insulin resistance of the pregnant woman’s cells. 

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form, comprising about 90-95% of diabetes cases. 

Can Diabetes Affect Your Ability to Work? 

Diabetes is associated with a host of other conditions and risk factors, most notably lifestyle-related conditions such as weight, diet, and physical activity. It can also lead to a wide range of long-term complications, including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, and bacterial and fungal infections. These complications can be serious and, in some cases, fatal. Diabetes can have serious health consequences for its sufferers, but it typically has little to no effect on their ability to engage in productive work. As such, it generally is not considered a work-related illness or injury and cannot form the basis of a workers’ compensation claim on its own. However, you should speak to an attorney to discuss the specifics of your case. 

The Impact of Diabetes on Work-Related Injuries 

Diabetes by itself generally does not qualify as a work-related injury that will entitle the sufferer to workers’ compensation benefits. However, individuals with diabetes are at a greater risk of complications should they suffer certain types of injuries on the job. This is because the body’s inability to process glucose into energy, as is seen in diabetics, can increase the severity of a wound and slow down the wound healing process. Diabetics’ wounds are slow to heal for several reasons, including: 

  • Poor circulation: Diabetics are at a much higher risk to suffer narrowing of the blood vessels, which inhibits blood flow to the extremities and slows down the healing process
  • Neuropathy: Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can cause the affected areas to lose sensation, and is particularly common in the hands and feet. As a result, the sufferer may not be able to feel the wound when it occurs, which can delay proper treatment and increase the chances of infection.  
  • High blood sugar: High blood sugar can inhibit the body’s ability to heal wounds by slowing the absorption of nutrients and oxygen into cells, preventing the immune system from functioning efficiently, and increasing inflammation. 
  • Reduced immune system function: Research has shown that immune cell activity in diabetics is suppressed, particularly for wounds to the feet, which reduces the ability of the body to fight off germs 

Untreated wounds — even small cuts and scrapes — on the feet and other extremities can progress into diabetic ulcers, a type of chronic, non-healing wound that is highly vulnerable to infection. If left untreated, diabetic ulcers can lead to limb amputations, disability, and even death. 

While diabetes in itself is not considered a work-related illness, work-related injuries that are exacerbated by the worker’s diabetes fall within the scope of the workers’ compensation program. For example, suppose that a diabetic worker gets his foot caught in a piece of machinery, leading to severe cuts and scrapes. Due to his weakened immune system, the cuts develop into diabetic ulcers and take months to heal, whereas for a non-diabetic worker the wounds would heal within several weeks. The foot injury, as well as the diabetes-related complications arising from it, would enable the worker to file a workers’ compensation claim

Diabetes as a Pre-Existing Condition 

A pre-existing condition is an illness or injury that the injured worker suffered prior to his or her work-related injury. In some cases, a work-related injury can exacerbate a pre-existing condition. For example, suppose that a worker tore her ACL several years ago. She then suffers another injury at work that re-injures her torn ACL, causing the new injury to be much more severe than it would have been had she not torn her ACL previously. In this scenario, the workers’ compensation program would cover the work-related ACL injury, but only for the worsening of the injury attributable to the new work-related injury. The same holds true for diabetes as a pre-existing condition; if a diabetic worker suffers a work-related injury that does not heal as quickly as it would in a non-diabetic or results in severe complications, the full extent of the worker’s injury will be covered under the workers’ compensation program.  

Contact an Attorney for More Information about Filing for Workers’ Compensation with Diabetes

Just because a work-related injury that is exacerbated by the claimant’s diabetes should be covered under workers’ compensation does not mean that a workers’ compensation insurance company will pay the claim. In many cases, workers’ compensation insurance companies use a claimant’s pre-existing condition as an excuse to deny the claim. To maximize your chances of getting your claim paid, 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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