Appellate Court Sheds More Light on What Constitutes “Substantial Aggravation”

Kegler Brown E-mployment Alert

The Court of Appeals for Knox County recently issued an opinion that may help clarify the concept of “substantial aggravation” under Ohio workers’ compensation law (Brate v. Rolls-Royce Energy Sys., 2012-Ohio-4577).

The Ohio legislature changed the aggravation standard in 2006. Previously, an allegedly injured worker needed only to prove a “symptomatic aggravation” (I hurt worse now than I did before) in order to have a compensable claim. The new law requires documentation of “objective diagnostic findings, objective clinical findings, or objective test results” to prove substantial aggravation. To date the Ohio Supreme Court has not decided any cases under the new standard.

Patrick Brate injured his knee and filed a motion for the allowance of substantial aggravation of pre-existing osteoarthritis. The parties agreed that there were no objective diagnostic findings or test results of aggravation since Brate had never had a knee x-ray or an MRI prior to the date of injury. The trial court granted the employer, Rolls-Royce, summary judgment, finding that Brate had failed to prove substantial aggravation.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and sent the matter back for trial. In so doing, the Court went into great detail to consider what constitutes “objective clinical findings” sufficient to prove substantial aggravation. This is the first case in which a court has truly taken great pains to dissect and explain those words in the statute that describe a substantial aggravation. Unfortunately, the Court’s analysis suggests that there may not be all that much of a difference between the old (symptomatic) and new (substantial) aggravation standard.

Rolls-Royce has not yet decided whether it will appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. View the Appellate Court decision.