We were fortunate that when the COVID problems developed the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner had already made several technology changes so that the system was in place to allow the injured workers and insurance companies to conduct remote trials.

One of the changes is that the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner had gone to an electronic filing system in 2019.  The electronic filing applies to all documents in the system, including the paperwork for trials.

In Iowa work comp cases the parties are required to cooperate to put together a set of joint medical exhibits for the case.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on November 3, 2020 in the case of Mary Coleman Duchesneau v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.  The claimant alleged injuries to her bilateral hands, bilateral wrists, bilateral elbows, bilateral shoulders and her neck.  The claimant was seen by a large number of physicians that gave differing opinions concerning the diagnosis of her injuries, the recommended treatment and the causes of her injuries.

Ultimately, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that most of the claimed injuries were work related.  The Commissioner also found that the claimant had suffered 55% industrial disability and therefore was entitled to 275 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits at the claimant’s weekly rate of $338.36.

The claimant was 59 years old at the time of the workers’ compensation trial and had worked at Wal-Mart since 2003.  Over her life she had worked in a number of fields including carpentry, janitorial, retail sales, baking, dry cleaning, child care, cab driving, cashier, and photo manager.  At Hy-Vee she primarily had worked as a deli merchandise supervisor.  The claimant developed problems with both of her hands and arms which radiated up to her shoulders.  The claimant believed her problems were a result of using a handheld device to put prices on deli items for 3 to 4 hours a day.

Prior to July 1, 2017 work injuries to an employee’s shoulder were treated as an unscheduled injury.  The classification of an injury as unscheduled is very important because it generally leads to a higher level of compensation.  In unscheduled injuries the standard for determining the amount of workers’ compensation is how much the injury has a negative effect on the worker’s ability to obtain a new job in the competitive job market.

In addition to unscheduled injuries, Iowa law also has a second category called scheduled injuries.  The scheduled injuries are a list of body parts consisting of the arm, hand, fingers, leg, foot, toes, eyes, and hearing.  Each body part is given a maximum value.  For instance, an index finger is worth a maximum of 35 weeks.  If an employee loses his entire index finger in a work accident, then the employee is entitled to 35 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.  If a worker suffers an injury to his index finger that results in a 10% impairment of the index finger, then the worker is entitled to 3.5 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.  (35 weeks x 10% = 3.5 weeks).

All injuries to body parts which are not in this schedule are considered to be unscheduled injuries.  These include injuries to the head, neck, and torso.  Under Iowa law injuries to the hip are still considered unscheduled, and injuries to the shoulder were traditionally considered as unscheduled.

Employers are responsible for all injuries to employees that arise out of and in the course of employment.  In contrast, claims by an injured worker against a co-worker are much more limited.  Iowa law requires an injured worker to show gross negligence against a co-worker in order to collect damages. The elements of proof in order to establish gross negligence are:

  1. That the co-worker had knowledge of the danger;
  2. That the co-worker’s knowledge was that injury was probable, rather than merely possible; and

EMPLOYEE VERSUS INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR UNDER IOWA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW

Under Iowa law, employees are entitled to receive workers compensation benefits and independent contractors are not entitled to receive workers compensation benefits.  Corbin v. Pro-Platinum Construction & Remodeling, LLC. and Le Mars Insurance Company is an April 6, 2020 Appeal Decision from the Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner analyzing a dispute on whether an injured worker was an employee or an independent contractor.  The Commissioner affirmed the decision of the Deputy Commissioner who noted that there are many legitimate independent contract relationships in the workforce, but that in the Corbin case the employer had been trying to evade his responsibilities to provide workers compensation insurance by using false independent contractor agreements.

Under Iowa workers compensation law there are 8 main factors that are examined to determine whether an injured Claimant is a worker or an independent contractor.  I am going to review the 8 factors and discuss the applicable underlying facts in the Corbin case.

Under Iowa law a worker with pre-existing COPD who suffers a permanent aggravation of their condition because of their employment is entitled to workers compensation benefits.

An important point for preserving a worker’s claim is that they should give notice of the aggravation as soon as they recognize the connection between work and their worsening COPD condition.

The Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on April 3, 2020 in the case of Cynthia Roman-Ties  v. Cargill, Inc. and Old Republic Insurance Co. which is a good illustration of these legal principles.

Under Iowa workers’ compensation law there are two ways in worker injured by COVID-19 can recover work comp benefits.  The choice of method depends on whether the injury developed from a prolonged and passive exposure; or whether the infection was linked to a sudden, specific incident of exposure.

If a worker is injured as a result of a sudden and specific incident of exposure then the claim is handled as a regular workers’ compensation injury under Chapter 85.

If the injury is found to have developed from a prolonged and passive exposure, then the remedy is under Iowa Code Chapter 85A which deals with occupational diseases.

On February 5, 2020 Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Michelle McGovern issued an arbitration decision in the case of Chavez v. MS Technology, LLC and Westfield Insurance Co.  This is one of the first cases to interpret the new Iowa work comp law concerning shoulder injuries and a new requirement that injured workers must satisfy in order to receive industrial disability/loss of earning capacity damages.

The Claimant was 61 years old and had worked for her employer cleaning labs since 2010.

The Claimant injured her right shoulder on February 5, 2018 while squeezing water out of a mop with a broken ringer system.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision in the case of Mynor Ferrez v. Wyckoff Heating & Cooling and LeMars Insurance Company.  This case is a good illustration of the importance of following up and pursuing a workers’ compensation claim quickly.

In May of 2014 the claimant was 35 years old and working as a heating and cooling technician for Wyckoff Heating & Cooling.  His main job was installing air conditioning systems in new commercial buildings.

On May 21, 2014 the claimant tripped and fell down a flight of stairs.  The claimant had low back and right shoulder pain after the fall.  The claimant went to the doctor a few times, but then returned to his regular duties without pursuing additional medical care.  The claimant was terminated from his job on October 10, 2014.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an appeal decision on January 10, 2020 in the case of Sherilyn Fasig Snitker v. Birdnow Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Birdnow Motors and Seabright Insurance Co.  The case is an example of how an injury will be compensated differently for someone that does physical labor versus someone who has a lighter duty job.

The claimant worked as a car salesperson.  She injured her low back on February 8, 2013 when she fell on the car lot.

The claimant underwent six weeks of physical therapy that did not help her condition.  She then had an MRI which showed a number of problems in the lumbar spine.