Under Iowa workers’ compensation law a worker can receive substantially more benefits for injuries to certain body parts if the worker also had a prior injury to a different body part. These types of cases are called Second Injury Fund claims. The law relating to the Second Injury Fund of Iowa is set out in Iowa Code Sections 85.63 to 85.69. The requirements for a worker to receive a Second Injury Fund award are as follows:
- The worker must have a work injury that results in permanent disability to one of his hands, arms, feet, legs or eyes.
- The worker must have suffered an earlier permanent loss to one of those same body parts. The earlier loss does not have to be related to a work injury.
- There must be permanent industrial disability to the body as a whole arising from both the first and second injuries which is greater in terms of relative weeks of compensation than the sum of the scheduled allowances for those injuries. If there is a greater industrial disability due to the two losses than their scheduled value, then the fund will be required to pay the difference.
Second Injury Fund claims are very complicated and difficult to understand the first time you hear about them. I am going to discuss the recent Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner appeal decision in the case of Bovy v. Second Injury Fund of Iowa which provides a good example of how a Second Injury Fund claim works.
The Claimant in the Bovy case was 54 years old at the time of hearing.
While the Claimant was in high school he suffered a left knee injury for a torn meniscus that required surgery. The knee injury did not prevent the Claimant from entering the Navy or give him problems with his later employment. (This knee injury provided the required prior injury to qualify for a Second Injury Fund claim).
The Claimant was injured while working for Power Engineering and Manufacturing, Ltd. on September 1, 2011. The Claimant was tightening a bolt with a wrench when the tool slipped and the Claimant struck his right hand on the edge of the machine. (This hand injury provided the required work injury to qualify for a Second Injury Fund claim).
The right hand injury originally did not appear serious. Unfortunately, the Claimant ended up going through a long sequence of medical care in which more and more injuries were discovered and treated.
The original doctor provided conservative care including a Cortisone injection of the wrist. After this did not address the symptoms the doctor performed surgery to repair a partial tear of the triangular fibrocartilage complex and the ulnar ligament.
This surgery did not address the Claimant’s symptoms, and the claimant underwent an ulnar shortening osteotomy. In this procedure part of the wrist bone was removed and plates and screws were inserted.
At this point the Claimant was terminated from his job because of his extensive restrictions.
The Claimant’s problems with his right wrist and hand continued and he underwent a partial fusion of his right wrist.
Following the partial fusion surgery to Claimant also underwent a functional capacity evaluation which resulted in the following restrictions:
- Floor to waist lifting with the right arm was limited to 30 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently.
- Right arm waist to shoulder lifting was limited to 15 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently.
- Right arm overhead lifting was limited to 8 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently.
- Right arm carrying of 30 pounds was limited to occasionally.
- Gripping and pinching with the right hand were limited to occasional only.
The treating physician issued an impairment rating of 8% of the arm for the right wrist injury.
The Claimant underwent an independent medical examination. His IME doctor criticized the functional capacity evaluation and recommended that the Claimant was limited to lifting no more than 10 pounds. The IME doctor believed the impairment for the right wrist injury was 11% of the arm.
If the Claimant did not have the earlier left knee injury that allowed him to bring a Second Injury Fund claim, his recovery would have been very limited. The treating physician’s impairment of 8% of the arm is only worth 20 weeks of PPD benefits. The IME doctor’s impairment rating of 11% of the right arm is only worth 27.5 weeks of PPD benefits.
However, as discussed above the fact that the Claimant was bringing a Second Injury Fund claim allowed the work injury to be assessed as an industrial disability injury.
The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner agreed that the FCE restrictions were too optimistic, and the Claimant should lift no more than 10 pounds.
The Worker’s Compensation Commissioner also found that the Claimant had made a reasonable job search following his termination, and no other employers were willing to hire him with his restrictions.
Therefore, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner ruled that the Claimant was entitled to receive permanent total disability benefits. This award means that the Claimant will receive weekly benefits from the Second Injury Fund until he passes away. If the Claimant lives 30 more years he will receive 1,560 weekly work comp checks.
Please contact our office if you have any questions about a Second Injury Fund claim or any other Iowa workers’ compensation issues.