One of the most common type of case in Iowa workers’ comp is when a worker has preexisting back problems that are aggravated by his job duties. As the Iowa Supreme Court has stated many times:
“While a claimant is not entitled to compensation for the result of a preexisting injury or disease, its mere existence at the time of a subsequent injury is not a defense. If the claimant had a preexisting condition or disability that is materially aggravated, accelerated, worsened or lighted up so that it results in disability, claimant is entitled to recover.”
A recent example of the application of the law of preexisting conditions is set out in the December 17, 2020 Appeal Decision of Hays v. Central Iowa Fencing, Ltd. And Grinnell Select Insurance.
The claimant was born in 1981, and his entire work history involved a substantial amount of physical labor.
The claimant had preexisting back problems and had seen a chiropractor for treatment over the years, and especially between 2007 and 2010.
The parties agreed that the claimant had suffered a minor aggravation of his back problems on April 26, 2018.
The main dispute of the case was whether the claimant suffered a more serious aggravation on July 25, 2018 that led to more substantial back problems. The defense position was that the claimant actually injured his back in late July while he was in the process of moving his home.
The claimant argued that he was injured on a difficult four-day job in Van Meter, Iowa. The location was very rocky and the work crew was not able to make much progress the first day. On the second day of the project the claimant and the rest of the crew brought heavy duty machinery including jackhammers and hydraulic post pounders. The claimant testified that he was injured while using a hydraulic post pounder. The employer did not expressly deny the claimant’s allegations, but suggested that claimant only did light-duty work on the job because he was already having problems from the earlier incident in April.
The claimant testified that he was fired from his job on August 10, 2018. The employer denied that the claimant had been fired, but the claimant did not work after August 10, 2018.
The case came on for trial on September 11, 2019. The claimant’s personal medical coverage had ended shortly after his termination, and he had not been able to pursue very much medical care. Claimant had undergone an MRI and some epidural injections which suggested that surgical intervention might be the next step.
Both the Deputy Commissioner who heard the case and the head Commissioner who ruled on the Appeal found that the claimant certainly had preexisting problems, but had suffered a permanent and material aggravation of his low back condition while working for the fencing company. The work comp insurance company was ordered to pay the claimant weekly healing period benefits going back to the date of termination on August 10, 2018 and continuing into the future until the claimant reached maximum medical improvement. At that time, the defendants would be responsible for paying the claimant permanent partial disability benefits.
The defendants were also ordered to pay for the medical care that the claimant had undergone so far, and to authorize and pay for all necessary future medical care relating to the back injury.