The Codification of Rakestraw v General Dynamics Under the Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Act

When the legislature amended the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act effective December 19,2011, they codified the case of Rakestraw v General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc., 469 Mich220 (2003) in §§ 301(1) and 401 (2)(b). Both of the cited sections state, “A personal injury under this Act is compensable if work causes, contributes to, or aggravates pathology in a manner so as to create a pathology that is medically distinguishable from any pathology that existed prior to the injury.” §40 1 (2)(b) goes on to state, “Conditions of the aging process, including but not limited to heart and cardiovascular conditions, and degenerative arthritis shall be compensable if contributed to or aggravated or accelerated by the employment in a significant manner.” This statement is also made in §301(2).

In Rakestraw, the Court established several principles when looking at injuries that are consistent with a preexisting condition. The Court stated that when an injury is consistent with a preexisting condition, the injured worker must show the existence of a work-related injury that goes beyond the manifestation of any symptoms that may be related to an underlying, preexisting condition. The Court indicated that a symptom such as pain could be considered evidence of an injury; however, standing alone, pain would not establish a connection to a workplace injury. In order to establish this connection, the injured worker must show the differentiation between the preexisting condition and the work-related injury. When the symptoms can be equally contributed to, the injured worker will have failed to meet his burden of proof. Essentially, there must be a distinction from the preexisting condition.

This standard was most recently upheld in the decision of Slovan v HCR – Manor Care, Inc., 2011 ACO No. 134 (Nov 29,2011). In that case, the magistrate found the claimant had established a medically distinguishable condition in accordance with Rakestraw. The magistrate found a pathological change in the claimant’s preexisting condition due to inflammation. After review, the Appellate Commission reversed this decision and stated ” … the magistrate’s finding that ‘inflammation’ satisfies Rakestraw and Fahr is erroneous … “. The case was remanded for a determination of whether the record supported a finding of a medically distinguishable condition. In short, the court found that “inflammation” is not a pathological change.

Rakestraw proves that when faced with an employee who suffers from a preexisting condition, the standard for determining a work-related injury is raised. The attorneys at Grzanka Grit McDonald are well versed in the Rakestraw standard and its applicability to each case. We remain free to discuss this standard and how it affects employers and employees on a general or on a case-by- case basis.

- Authored by Jennifer Fullmer