Aggravation of industrial injury versus exacerbation of industrial injury defined by WCAB

This is a Writ Denied case

This is a very significant case for workers’ compensation principles.

The applicant injured his low back while doing training. The applicant was evaluated by an Agreed Medical Examiner (AME). The AME determined that the injury was an exacerbation of a prior non-industrial back injury.

The case went to trial and the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found the applicant suffered a temporary exacerbation of a chronic, preexisting low back injury. Defendant petitioned for reconsideration claiming an exacerbation is not an industrial injury.

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) indicated that the applicant sustained an “aggravation” of his prior injury rather than an “exacerbation”.

The WCAB explained the difference between an “exacerbation” and an “aggravation”. The acceleration, or “lighting up” or “aggravation” is regarded as an injury for workers’ compensation purposes. (Tanenbaum v. IAC) An aggravation of a pre-existing condition is an industrial injury.

An exacerbation is not an industrial injury. The AME using the term exacerbation in this case, was using an incorrect theory regarding the legal basis for what is an injury. His opinion was not substantial evidence.

The applicant in this case suffered an aggravation which was compensable.


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