The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner recently issued an Appeal Decision in the case of McDonald v. Sedona Staffing and Ace American Insurance Co.  The McDonald case is factually very complex, and deals with the issue of whether an employer can cut off medical care for a worker who was injured on the job, and then injured the same body part in a later non-work accident.

The claimant was working at a manufacturing company through Sedona Staffing where he primarily was a welder.  The claimant injured his low back when he slipped and fell on the job.

The claimant was treated conservatively for several months, but ultimately underwent low back surgery by Dr. Abernathey from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The Commissioner found that the claimant credibly testified that he continues to have low back pain, and problems with bending, lifting, and prolonged walking or sitting.

The claimant was 48 years old at the time of the workers’ compensation trial.  He had obtained his GED.  He had some college education.  The claimant also had a CDL license and a welding certification.

Throughout his life the claimant had worked as a bartender, a laborer in the construction and farming trades, a welder, a heavy equipment mechanic, a maintenance employee, a fork lift operator, a race car mechanic, and a truck driver.

The defense doctors gave the opinion that the claimant had suffered a 7% whole person impairment.  The doctor that performed an IME on behalf of the claimant gave the opinion that the claimant had a 14% whole person impairment.

The doctors disagreed over what restrictions were appropriate.  Dr. Abernathey had released the claimant to return to work without restrictions.  However, Dr. Abernathey also acknowledged that the release without restrictions was given only from the structural standpoint that the claimant would not injure his spine further by working without restrictions.  Dr. Abernathey conceded that the question of whether the claimant was actually capable of functioning without restrictions was beyond the nature of Dr. Abernathey’s practice, and the claimant’s need for functional limitations should be determined by others.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner ultimately accepted the opinions of the claimant’s experts that issued reports that the claimant should rarely do forward bends, crawl, crouch, or use ladders.  The claimant should only do occasional elevated work, standing rotation, kneeling, squatting, or stair use.  Additionally, the claimant should lift up to 35 pounds rarely, 25 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner noted that these restrictions would prevent the claimant from returning to much of his former employment.

The claimant was rear ended at a high rate of speed about a year after his work accident.  He had a flare up of his low back symptoms, but that flare up dissipated.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that based on the claimant’s testimony, and the opinions of claimant’s IME doctor, that the motor vehicle accident did not change the condition of his low back injury.  Additionally, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that the defendants could not be relieved of their duty to provide lifetime medical care for the low back injury based on the occurrence of the motor vehicle accident.

In assessing the extent of damages in the case, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner noted that Sedona Staffing did not place the claimant in any work assignments after his injury.  The Commissioner noted that Sedona had numerous job placements across the spectrum of physical demand levels.  Therefore, the Commissioner found that Sedona’s failure to place the claimant in another job was evidence of Sedona’s inability or unwillingness to attempt to place the claimant.

On the other hand, the claimant managed on his own to find two part-time jobs that together provided him more income than he had when he was working for Sedona Staffing.

The Commissioner ruled that the claimant was nonetheless entitled to 40% industrial disability.  This ruling required the defendants to pay the claimant 200 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

Please be sure to contact our office if you have any questions about medical care, extent of disability, or other Iowa workers’ compensation issues.