Ohio recognizes as valid, for Workers’ Compensation purposes, injuries that aggravate a pre-existing condition. Prior to a statutory change in the law in 2006, Ohio courts had held that “aggravation” of a pre-existing condition could be demonstrated merely by an increase in symptoms sufficient to result in the need for medical treatment. For injuries occurring after August 25, 2006, a different standard applies.”Injury” now includes conditions that preexisted an injury but only if the condition was “substantially aggravated” by the injury.
Not much of a difference, really… or so you would think.
However, the addition of the word “substantial” has significantly increased the burden on an injured worker when it comes to proving a compensable “on the job” injury. The pertinent statute requires that a substantial aggravation be documented by objective diagnostic findings, objective clinical findings, or object test results. Subjective complaints alone are insufficient to establish a substantial aggravation.
This standard of proof can be problematic: For example, how does one demonstrate a substantial aggravation of an underlying arthritic condition previously asymptomatic? What about construction accidents or factory accidents? It is not at all uncommon for an auto or factory worker, or someone injured working the line at a factory, to suffer many back injuries over the course of their work life.
At this point, a distinction must be made between recurrence of a condition and aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Fortunately, many recurrent injuries, such as a low back sprain or strain, heal within 8 to 12 weeks of the injury (at least, that’s what the defense doctors will tell you!). A recurrence of a previously healed injury is not the same as an aggravation of a pre-existing condition and a worker may sustain many recurrent back injuries, each of which constitutes a separate claim.
Typically, “substantial aggravation” claims are not as problematic when strains and sprains are involved. Rather, the problems in proving “substantial aggravation” typically involve pre-existing degenerative conditions, such as degenerative disc disease or degenerative arthritis.
In these situations, it is necessary to establish, typically by x-ray findings or MRI results, the objective worsening of the condition. EMG testing may also verify the presence of radiculopathy, a radiating pain that may result when an injury causes a previously dormant condition to become symptomatic. In these situations, it is important to obtain and present evidence of diagnostic testing (or the lack of such testing) that may have preceded the work injury.