The Sixth District Court of Appeals of Ohio Clarifies its Stance on Substantial Aggravation

Generally speaking, under Ohio law, an employee may file a workers’ compensation claim for an injury that arises out of the course and scope of his or her employment. In addition, an employee may even file for pre-existing injuries, so long as the workplace injury “substantially aggravated” the pre-existing injury at issue. What qualifies as substantial aggravation has been a bit confusing since the enactment of Senate Bill 7 (SB7).

Prior to SB7, we only needed show “symptomatic aggravation,” or rather that the injured worker’s symptoms changed (worsened or became different) upon the occurrence of the new injury. However, in 2006 employer lead interest groups combined their efforts to enact SB7, which has made it significantly more difficult for injured workers to file a workers’ compensation claim for aggravation of pre-existing injuries. SB7 changed the definition of aggravation to require a “substantial aggravation.” This must be shown by objective evidence, outlined by a doctor, and determined by the Industrial Commission.

The definition of substantial aggravation was further muddied by the case of Smith v. Lucas County, 2011-Ohio-1548 (Ohio Ct. App., Lucas County Mar. 31, 2011). Although that case did nothing to redefine or otherwise raise the bar for employees wishing to file workers’ compensation claim for substantial aggravation, it was interpreted by employers to add the requirement of objective evidence of a pre-existing condition both before and after the industrial injury. Obviously this was inaccurate, however the Smith case left enough wiggle room for employers to make such an argument.

Fortunately, in 2013, two cases clarified the ruling in Smith, and in so doing put the power back into the employee’s hands to see that work place injuries are properly compensated. In Gardi v. Bd. of Educ., 2013-Ohio-3436 (Ohio Ct. App., Cuyahoga County Aug. 8, 2013), the Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled that there is no language written anywhere in Ohio law that requires evidence of a pre-existing condition both before and after the industrial injury. Then, right here in Lucas County, the Sixth District Court of Appeals clarified its prior ruling in Smith in the case of Lake v. Anne Grady Corp., 2013-Ohio-4740 (Ohio Ct. App., Lucas County Oct. 25, 2013). The court ruled that neither Smith nor Ohio law requires an injured worker to produce evidence of pre-existing condition both before and after the industrial injury.

Thus, today employees can properly file workers’ compensation claims for aggravation of pre-existing claims so long as they are able to produce objective evidence. Because this is more of a legal determination to be made at a hearing, the attorneys at Gallon, Takacs & Boissoneault can help with the complexities of your workplace injury.