Can You Get Worker's Compensation for Obesity?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 07, 2015 4:01 PM

The National Heart Forum estimates that 37 percent of Americans are obese. This number could rise to 50 percent by 2030.

Obesity doesn't just affect our size. It can cause other health problems, such as high blood pressure or heart attacks, or exacerbate the effects of other injuries, such as a back or knee injury. With the sedentary lifestyle of office work and all these drastic numbers in mind, can you get workers' compensation for obesity?

Work Related Injury

While workers compensation laws vary from state to state, generally, you can get workers compensation for an injury that is work related, meaning it was caused or aggravated by your work duties or the conditions of your work place. Simple enough right?

Obesity

In 2013, The American Medical Association reclassified obesity as a "disease state."

Employers and employers' workers' compensation attorneys feared that this new designation would make obesity an occupational hazard for which people could claim workers compensation.

Not surprisingly, since the link between weight gain and work can often be hard to prove, there have not been much evidence of these claims being made or approved. 

Obesity Combined With Other Injuries

However, courts have awarded workers' compensation coverage for treatment of obesity in conjunction with a compensable injury.

In Boston's Gourmet Pizza vs. Adam Childers, Childers, obese, suffered a back injury when a freezer door hit him in the back. The workers' compensation board found that the injury was work related. Childers' needed back surgery, but because of his weight, he would need to get lap band surgery first. The Indiana appeals court found that Childers was entitled to lap band surgery for weight loss as part of the treatment of his back injury.

In SAIF Corp v. Sprague, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that weight-loss surgery can be covered by workers' compensation if it is necessary to treat a job-related injury. Similar to the Childers case, Sprague suffered a work related knee injury. He needed gastric-bypass surgery before he could undergo knee replacement surgery to fix the work related injury.

So while getting workers' comp solely for being obese may be a stretch, workers' comp to treat obesity in conjunction with some other compensable injury is definitely possible.

If your weight is affecting treatment of your work related injury, consult with an experienced workers' compensation attorney for help.

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