APPORTIONMENT AND CASES WITH MULTIPLE INDUSTRIAL DISABILITY INJURIES

Under Iowa workers’ compensation law the issue of apportionment has been an unclear area that has led to a great deal of litigation.  Iowa Code Section 85.34(7)(b)(1) covers injuries that occurred before July 1, 2017 and provides:

“If an injured employee has a preexisting disability that was caused by a prior injury arising out of and in the course of employment with the same employer, and the preexisting disability was compensable under the same paragraph of subsection 2 as the employee’s present injury, the employer is liable for the combined disability that is caused by the injuries, measured in relation to the employee’s condition immediately prior to the first injury.  In this instance, the employer’s liability for the combined disability shall be considered to be already partially satisfied to the extent of the percentage of disability for which the employee was previously compensated by the employer.”

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner issued a decision on August 31, 2018 in the case of Haltom v. JBS USA, LLC and American Zurich Insurance Company.  The Haltom case deals with the issue of apportionment, and also addresses a complex set of facts involving multiple injuries.

The claimant worked as a rendering mechanic for JBS.  His duties included replacing motors and gear boxes, repairing equipment, and making certain all the equipment was working correctly.

The claimant suffered a minor low back injury in 2007, but was able to return to work without any significant problems.  He settled this 2007 back injury case for 28.73 weeks of PPD benefits.

On December 2, 2012 the claimant suffered an accepted shoulder injury involving a rotator cuff tear.  The claimant had to undergo a shoulder surgery in May of 2013, and then a second surgery on March 10, 2014 when the rotator cuff injury retore.  The physician chosen by the Employer and Insurance Company returned the claimant to work on September 3, 2014 without restrictions and a 1% body as a whole impairment rating.

The claimant had trouble performing his mechanic’s job upon his return to work, and unfortunately would suffer another injury after just three weeks of being back on the job.  On September 23, 2014 the claimant fell seven feet off a ladder and landed on his back.  The claimant suffered a low back injury.  The claimant was able to avoid surgery, but was given restrictions of not lifting more than 20 pounds from floor to waist and over the shoulder.  He could lift 40 pounds occasionally between his waist and shoulders as long as he kept the weight close to his body.  He could sit, stand, walk, or squat on an occasional basis.  He could work with tools occasionally at or above shoulder height.

The claimant was not able to return to his mechanic’s job after this 2014 back injury.  However, his employer accommodated his injuries and created a new job position in which the claimant performs light fabrication work.

The case proceeded to trial and the Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner awarded 20% industrial disability worth 100 weeks of PPD benefits on the accepted shoulder injury.  The Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner also ruled that the defendants were entitled to a credit of 28.73 weeks for the 2007 settlement against the award of 100 weeks of PPD benefits.

At trial the defendants argued that the back injury was only a temporary aggravation of a preexisting condition that had returned to baseline.  The Deputy Commissioner disagreed and found that the claimant had incurred a 70% loss of earning capacity from the back injury.  Therefore, the claimant was entitled to 350 weeks of PPD benefits for the back injury.

Additionally, the Deputy Commissioner ruled that the defendants were entitled to a credit of 100 weeks of PPD benefits from the 2012 shoulder injury for the 350 weeks owed on the 2014 back injury.

Both parties appealed.  The claimant argued for a higher award from the shoulder injury, and the Defendants argued that the back injury award should be reversed or substantially reduced.  On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner completely affirmed the decision from the Deputy Commissioner.

Please be sure to contact our office if you have any questions about apportionment or other Iowa workers’ compensation issues.