Sometimes an injury at work can cause other health problems. For example, a knee injury could impair a person’s balance and cause them to fall, or a back injury could weaken it, making the person more susceptible to further injury in the future. Under the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act, if a subsequent injury is caused by a work injury, it is still covered under worker’s compensation, even if the subsequent injury occurs outside of work.

When Is a Re-Injury or Secondary Injury Covered Under WI Workers Compensation?

An off-the-job injury is still covered under worker’s compensation when it is a “direct and natural consequence of a compensable on-the-job injury.” But what does this mean?

In Lange v. Labor and Industry Review Commission, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals said “a work-related injury that plays any part in a second, non-work-related injuryPhysical therapist examining African American man (20s) on treatment table. is properly considered a substantial factor in the re-injury.”

For example, in Lange, the employee injured his back at work, resulting in a herniated disc. A year later, he slipped and fell on ice outside of work, causing the herniated disc to worsen. Because doctors said that the second injury worsened the damage caused by the first, work-related injury, the second injury was compensable under worker’s compensation because the second injury would not have occurred to the same extent if not for the work injury.

In another case (1), an employee injured his back at work, resulting in surgery and permanent disability. Four years after his initial injury, the employee sneezed, causing significant new pain and a worsened back condition. Because doctors opined that the re-injury of the sneeze was a result of the employee’s weakened back after his initial work injury, the re-injury was covered under worker’s compensation.

Even if a subsequent injury is to a different part of the body entirely rather than a worsening of the same injury, it can still be compensable under workers compensation. For example, an injury to the back suffered as a result of stretches done in physical therapy as a treatment for a work-related injury to another body part is covered under workers compensation. (2)

When Is a Subsequent Injury Not Covered?

A second injury is not covered if it is unrelated to the work injury and is not a factor in the second injury. For example, in Pesola v. Marinette Casting Corporation/Wausau Business Insurance Co.(3), an employee injured his back at work, and received brief medical treatment. Approximately a month after he stopped treating for his work injury, the employee experienced a popping sensation in his back while getting out of the shower and eventually required surgery. Because the medical evidence showed the work injury was only a strain which fully healed, the subsequent act of getting out of the shower was a separate injury and therefore not a compensable re-injury.

The information above is not intended to constitute legal advice. If you have suffered a work injury or a secondary injury that you believe is related to your work injury, please contact Hawks Quindel, where experienced attorneys can assess your claim.


(1) Van Patten v. Contract Converting LLC. (LIRC 12/8/2010).
(2) Tirado v. Harters Quick Clean Up, Inc. (LIRC 10/11/2005).
(3) Pesola v. Marinette Casting Corp. (LIRC 3/31/2008).

Bill Parsons

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