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.

The Claimant had pre-existing COPD and was employed at Cargill, Inc.  The Claimant explained that there were several aspects of her job that aggravated her COPD.  The plant had numerous stairs that she was frequently going up and down.  Additionally, most of the departments in the factory had grain dust, starch dust, and/or chemicals in the air.

The Claimant voluntarily terminated her employment on December 30, 2015 because of her concern that continuing to work at Cargill would have a negative effect on her quality of life and breathing.

The Claimant was seen by two treating physicians that gave opinions that the Claimant would need appropriate environmental control and that she should be restricted from exposure to irritating chemicals, smoke, dust, fumes, or vapors.  The Defendants had the Claimant seen by a third physician for a defense medical exam. The defense doctor noted that the Claimant should avoid situations that bother her COPD.

As I mentioned above, it is important for a worker to give notice of their claim as soon as they recognize the problem.  The Roman-Ties case was decided as an occupational disease injury under Iowa Code Chapter 85A.  Under Chapter 85A, the date of injury is considered to be the last date that an employee was able to continue working.  In the Roman-Ties case, Claimant’s last day of work was December 30, 2015, and in an exit interview with her employer on January 11, 2016, she informed the Human Resources interview that she was claiming a work-related lung or breathing injury.

Depending on the specific facts of the case, the date of injury could be considered to be much earlier, such as when a worker first noticed breathing problems at their job. Therefore, it is critical for the worker to give notice as soon as possible.

The Commissioner found that the aggravation of the Claimant’s pre-existing COPD was permanent, and it prevented her from working in jobs that had irritants such as chemicals, smoke, dust, fumes or vapors.  Therefore, the Commissioner found that the Claimant had sustained 40% industrial disability and awarded her 200 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.