Reopening an Injured Worker’s Claim: Worker’s Subjective Evidence Alone is Not Enough to Reopen a Claim.

On January 29, 2018, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington discussed the issue of whether subjective evidence of an industrial injury worsening could solely be used to reopen a claim. The court, in Hendrickson v. Labor and Industries, affirmed the longstanding rule requiring an injured worker to present, at least in part, objective medical evidence of an injury worsening since initial closure of the claim before reopening is allowed.[1]  The court defined objective symptoms as “those within the independent knowledge of the doctor because they are perceptible to persons other than a patient.”[2]

The injured worker in this case was previously awarded category 4 permanent dorso-lumbar impairment.  Two years later, the worker filed to reopen her claim because of the pain she “felt all over”.  A doctor ordered an MRI, and the doctor testified the MRI results were essentially unchanged from an MRI taken two years ago, and further stated nothing presented upon physical examination of the worker could qualify as objective medical evidence to reopen the claim.  However, the doctor did testify the worker was “feeling worse” on a medically more-probable-than-not basis.

The worker argued subjective complaints of the injury worsening verified by a doctor were enough to meet her burden of proof to reopen the claim.  The court rejected the worker’s argument because she failed to present any objective evidence of her injury changing or worsening after her claim initially closed.

The court’s requirement of objective medical evidence of a worsening condition to reopen an injured worker’s claim is valuable to employers because it maintains the burden of proof an injured worker must meet to reopen a claim.  Any lowering of the burden through use of subjective evidence alone would potentially (1) increase the number of claims reopened and (2) increase the difficulty in defending against reopened claims because of hardships in refuting subjective evidence.

If you have any questions regarding the impact of the Hendrickson decision or need help with a claim involving the issues presented above, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Wallace, Klor, Mann, Capener & Bishop, PC.


[1] Tollycraft Yachts, 122 Wn.2d at 432 (1993).

[2] Hinds v. Johnson, 55Wn.2d 325, 327, 347 (1959).