Did Commission Abuse Its Discretion In Concluding That Individual's Original Injury at Workplace Was Not Reaggravated ?

In Blanton v. Indus. Comm., 99 Ohio St.3d 238, 2003 Ohio 3271, 790 N.E.2d 1209, the claimant, Patricia E. Blanton ("Blanton"), tripped over a floor mat at work and strained her back. The injury occurred on May 17, 1998, and, apparently, the claim was allowed for a lumbar sprain and strain. Blanton was treated by a chiropractor on May 21 and 28, 1998. She had no further treatment and missed no time from work. On January 30 or 31, 1999, Blanton was bending over to retrieve house slippers when she experienced severe low back pain. Blanton returned to her chiropractor, Dr. Flerchinger, complaining of pain-induced nausea and inability to stand straight or raise her head. Blanton sought to have her treatment subsequent to the January incident paid for in her workers' compensation claim. the employer objected. Dr. Flerchinger wrote: "DISCUSSION: Due to the fact that this individual has not had other known traumas or accidents known to me, I believe, with reasonable medical certainty, that the low back pain which occurred on January 30th is in fact a re-aggravation of the original injury which occurred 5-17-98. Factors predisposing this are: 1) No prior history of low back pain, 2) Incompletion of care initiated in May of 1998, 3) As a complicating factor, disc degeneration at L4-L5, L5-S1 and osteoarthritis." Id. at P15. Denying Blanton's request for payment of fee bills, a DHO explained: "Fee bills for treatment rendered by Dr. Flerchinger from 02/01/1999 to present are denied as not causally related to the 05/17/1998 industrial injury. When the industrial injury occurred on 05/17/1998, the claimant had only two (2) treatments from Dr. Flerchinger on 05/21/1998 and 05/28/1998. She missed no time from work. Then on 02/01/1999, she sought further treatment from Dr. Flerchinger. the occasion that the claimant sought further treatment was that she reinjured her back while at home, bending over to put on her slippers. at that point, she sought ongoing continuous treatment. the District Hearing Officer finds the incident at home to be an intervening and superseding incident to the one in which she tripped on a rug walking to her office. Therefore, the District Hearing Officer denies the payment of treatment from 02/01/1999 to present as not causally related to the 05/17/1998 industrial injury" Id. at P17. The DHO's order in Blanton was administratively affirmed. In Blanton, the court held that the commission properly considered Dr. Flerchinger's report but simply rejected its conclusion based on the commission's own view of the circumstances of the injuries. the sole issue was whether that was an abuse of discretion. Finding that the commission did not abuse its discretion, the Blanton court explained: The commission is the sole evaluator of the evidence before it. State ex rel. Burley v. Coil Packing, Inc. (1987), 31 Ohio St.3d 18, 31 OBR 70, 508 N.E.2d 936. Here, the commission's decision hinged on two things: claimant's prior medical history and Dr. Flerchinger's reference to a specific precipitating incident in late January 1999. As to the former, claimant's industrial injury occurred on May 17, 1998. She had only two treatments--four and eleven days after the injury--and sought no further medical attention. She also missed no time from work. from this, the commission could logically conclude that claimant's lumbar sprain and strain had timely healed. This conclusion, in turn, ties into the second factor noted above. Claimant's renewed back pain can be linked to an identifiable occurrence after the industrial injury. Claimant questions how the mere act of bending over could bring on back pain unless something else was wrong beforehand. That something else, however, is not necessarily the claimant's industrial injury. Twice Dr. Flerchinger referred to "disc degeneration at the L4-L5, L5-S1 levels with osteoarthritis at the L4-L5 levels," and on page two of his report, he specifically lists those conditions as "a complicating factor." Neither of those conditions is allowed in the claim. While the mention of these conditions did not disqualify the report from consideration, it did give the commission reason to question the report's conclusion. Dr. Flerchinger indeed characterizes the January 1999 onset of pain as a reaggravation of her industrial injury, and, as claimant argues, this is some evidence of causal relationship. The existence of those elements listed above, however, ultimately defeats claimant's argument. the report discusses evidence capable of two interpretations, and, where that occurs, the commission does not abuse its discretion in choosing one over the other. The commission did not abuse its discretion in finding that claimant did not sustain her burden. Id. at P24-26. Thus, in Blanton, the commission validly explained how the lack of medical treatment and Dr. Flerchinger's mention of a non-allowed condition as a complicating factor led the commission to discredit Dr. Flerchinger's opinion that the low back pain on January 30th was a reaggravation of the original injury.