Ohio Employer Not Entitled to Unlimited Medical Release

An Ohio appellate court has refused to require a claimant seeking PTD benefits to deliver a signed, unlimited medical release to the employer [State ex rel. Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Howard, 2019-Ohio-1460, 2019 Ohio App. LEXIS 1560 (Apr. 18, 2019)]. The court affirmed the decision of the Commission (and recommended by the reviewing magistrate) that limited, under the circumstances of the case, claimant’s medical release to the medical conditions that the injured employee claimed had been initiated by a work-related auto accident.

Background

Claimant sustained a work-related injury in August 11 2009, when she was involved in a work-related motor vehicle accident. Relatively soon thereafter, she filed a claim seeking workers’ compensation benefits related primarily to an alleged lumbar sprain and left knee injury, with accompanying major depression.

Eight years later, claimant filed an application for PTD compensation. The employer sought to suspend the application because of claimant’s refusal to provide a medical release permitting disclosure of all medical records from treatment or examination rendered by any physician pertaining to all conditions, as well as a complete list of her medical providers.

After a hearing, the hearing administrator directed claimant to provide some, but not all, of the information sought. Generally speaking, claimant was directed to provide a C-101 Medical Release and a ProMedica Release (the latter was to aid in securing the documents of a specific physician) for treatment of: Lumbar Spine; Left and Right knees; Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy; and Depression and Anxiety from 1999 to present.

Dissatisfied with the result, the employer sought a writ of mandamus ordering the Commission to suspend the PTD compensation application. The the magistrate recommended that the appellate court deny the employer’s request for a writ of mandamus.

Court of Appeals Affirms

The Court of Appeals affirmed. Referring to State ex rel. Stephenson v. Indus. Comm., 31 Ohio St.3d 167, 509 N.E.2d 946 (1987), the Court acknowledged that in addition to claimant’s allowed medical conditions, claimant’s non-medical factors might be relevant to the PTD issue. Still, non-allowed conditions could not be used to advance or defeat the claim for compensation. Additionally, while the mere presence of a non-allowed condition in a claim for compensation did not, in itself, destroy the compensability of the claim, nevertheless, the claimant must still meet his or her burden of showing that an allowed condition independently caused the disability. Even if non-allowed conditions are severe, they are irrelevant as long as the allowed conditions are independently disabling.

The Court noted that the employer sought broad medical information because it contended claimant had a history of medical problems unrelated to her injury that could impact her ability to work. The employer further contended that claimant’s medical history must be fully disclosed because it might be necessary to develop the issue of whether any non-allowed condition was working in tandem with any allowed condition to render her unable to perform sustained remunerative employment.

No Statute or Rule Requires Unlimited Release

The appellate court stressed that there was no no Ohio case, statute, or rule that required claimant to sign the unrestrictive release the employer had prepared. According to the court, the known existence of non-allowed conditions did not necessitate a claimant’s global medical records release simply because those non-allowed conditions might also be debilitating. The resolution of the issue was reasonable, said the court. The request for writ of mandamus was accordingly denied.

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