Appeal from Superior Court of Clallam County. Docket No: 93-2-00343-1. Date filed: 08/12/94. Judge signing: Hon. Kenneth D. Williams.
Authored by John E. Turner. Concurring: David H. Armstrong, Carroll C. Bridgewater
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Turner
TURNER, J. -- ITT Rayonier (ITT) appeals the reopening of James Loushin's industrial insurance claim for back injuries. We are faced with two questions. First, can a chiropractor's testimony be used to establish aggravation of an injury? Second, did sufficient evidence support the court's findings that: (1) the aggravation of Loushin's injury was causally related to his industrial injury; and (2) the aggravation required medical treatment? We hold that chiropractic testimony can establish aggravation and that sufficient evidence showed a causal relation between the injury and the aggravation, which did require treatment. We affirm.
Loushin fell while working as a logger for ITT on April 11, 1984. Loushin filed a claim for industrial insurance benefits. The Department of Labor and Industries awarded him time loss compensation and an award for permanent partial disability for cervical and lumbar impairment.
In September 1988, Loushin applied to reopen his case, claiming that his back condition had become aggravated. *fn1 The Department rejected the application and that decision was ultimately affirmed by the Clallam County Superior Court. In September 1991, Loushin again sought to reopen his case. He asked to receive a pension as a totally and permanently disabled worker or to receive further medical treatment. His claim was again denied. *fn2 Loushin appealed to the Clallam County Superior Court. The trial court reversed the decision of the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, holding that "Loushin's condition causally related to the industrial injury of April 11, 1984, became aggravated within the meaning of RCW 51.32.160." ITT appealed.
Chiropractic Testimony Regarding Aggravation.
ITT contends that a chiropractor cannot provide the requisite "medical" testimony that a condition has worsened and that such aggravation is causally related to a prior industrial injury. To support its claim, ITT argues that: (1) administrative regulations provide that only physicians, the definition of which does not include chiropractors, can evaluate bodily impairments and the extent or degree of permanent bodily impairment or disability; and (2) case law prohibits chiropractors from testifying as to medical causation. ITT asserts that, without the chiropractor's testimony, Loushin failed to introduce sufficient medical evidence of aggravation and, therefore, the trial court should not have reopened this case. We disagree.
The industrial insurance act authorizes the reopening of a case if an aggravation of the disability occurs after the claim is closed. See Wilber v. Department of Labor & Indus., 61 Wash. 2d 439, 444, 378 P.2d 684 (1963); RCW 51.32.160(1)(a), *fn3 WAC 296-14-400. *fn4 To prevail on an aggravation claim, the claimant must establish the following elements by "medical testimony."
(1) The causal relationship between the injury and the subsequent disability must be established by medical testimony.
(2) The claimant must prove by medical testimony, some of it based upon objective symptoms, that an aggravation of the injury resulted in increased disability.
(3) A claimant's medical testimony must show that the increased aggravation occurred between the terminal ...