Under current Ohio law, the Industrial Commission of Ohio has the discretion to reject uncontroverted medical evidence so long as the commission explains its basis for doing so. State ex rel. Ritzie v. Reece-Campbell, Inc., 146 Ohio St.3d 259, 2015-Ohio-5224. But does this also apply in cases where there is conflicting medical evidence? If so, does the commission have to explain its basis for disregarding one medical opinion in favor of another?
The Tenth District Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue in State ex rel. Cleveland Metro. School Dist. v. Indus. Comm., 2022-Ohio-2150. This case involved an injured worker’s request for temporary total disability benefits (“TTD”) after their claim was additionally allowed to include a new condition. A District Hearing Office issued an order on June 21, 2019 granting TTD based on the injured worker’s doctor’s report and BWC doctor’s report. Both the injured worker’s doctor and the BWC doctor found that the newly allowed condition in the claim prevented the injured worker from returning to work. The BWC doctor also found that the new allowance was a new or changed circumstance to warrant the request for TTD. Meanwhile, the employer’s doctor found that there were no new or changed circumstances in the claimant’s symptoms to warrant TTD. The employer appealed this order, and a Staff Hearing Officer issued an order on August 8, 2019 also granting the request for TTD. After a subsequent appeal and request for reconsideration to the Industrial Commission were denied, the employer filed a mandamus action in the Tenth District Court of Appeals, and the magistrate determined the Industrial Commission did not abuse its discretion in granting TTD. The employer appealed, and the Tenth District adopted the magistrate’s decision, and overruled the employer’s objection.
In finding that the Industrial Commission did not abuse its discretion in granting TTD, the Court addressed whether the Industrial Commission was required to explain its reason for rejecting medical evidence in favor of conflicting medical evidence. The Court cited its previous decision in State ex rel. Hettinger v. Ferrellgas, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 16AP-751, 2017-Ohio-7899, where it addressed whether the commission had to explain why it rejected one medical report in favor of another in denying a permanent total disability (“PTD”) application. The Court held that, “under those circumstances, the commission was only required to state the evidence on which it relied and to briefly explain why relator was not entitled to PTD compensation.” Id. at 5. In Cleveland Metro., the Court applied the same logic as Hettigner, and held that when there was conflicting evidence, the commission was only required to state which evidence it relied upon and a brief explanation of why the injured worker was entitled to TTD. This was distinguished from Ritzie, which only applied in cases where there was uncontroverted medical evidence. As a result, the Court held that the industrial commission did not abuse its discretion in granting TTD on behalf of the injured worker, and overruled the employer’s objection.
If you would like to submit a question to Shop talk, or would like to discuss this or any other workers’ compensation issues, please feel free to contact me or my associate Gary Baker.