Articles Posted in Strategy Advice

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.

Ashley Heinrich v. Area Ambulance Authority, Inc. and Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America is an Appeal Decision filed by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner on December 18, 2020.  The Claimant quit her job and obtained new employment while her work comp case was pending.  Fortunately, the case turned out fine for the Claimant, but I have seen a lot of cases where leaving for a new job has a very negative impact on the case.

The dangers of leaving a job while you have a work comp case pending are:

  1. To the extent the injury worsens or new problems are identified, the job change gives the first employer a good start to the argument that the problem is from the new job.

Set out below are the questions I get asked most frequently about work comp and my answers.  I am setting out a lot of questions and giving general answers.  However, the details do matter in Iowa work comp law so you should follow up with a lawyer to figure out how the law applies to your exact situation:

  1. What is workers’ compensation? Workers’ compensation is a statutory system to provide medical care and cash money for employees that are injured on the job.
  1. Does workers’ compensation cover pre-existing problems? Iowa workers’ compensation does not cover pre-existing problems unless the work aggravates or worsens the pre-existing problem.  For example, many people have pre-existing back problems but are able to do their job.  If the employment ends up aggravating your back condition, then you are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The recent Appeal Decision in the case of Michael Warren v. Altec, Inc. and Sentinel Insurance Company is an example of how post-concussion injury cases are handled in Iowa workers’ compensation.

The claimant was injured on March 22, 2017 when a J-hook he was using came unhooked from a tank he was pulling, and the claimant fell back and struck his head and was knocked unconscious.  The claimant’s initial symptoms were a mild headache, dizziness and nausea.  The local physician recommended waiting on a neurology referral to see if claimant’s symptoms would clear up on their own.

Unfortunately, the claimant’s symptoms did not clear up and he was referred to see Beth Triebel, O.D. at Vision Park in Des Moines.  Dr. Triebel’s diagnosis was bilateral myopia, presbyopia, vertical heterophoria, and post-concussion syndrome.  Dr. Triebel changed the prescription of the Claimant’s glasses.  Dr. Triebel also ordered vision therapy which ran from October 19, 2017 through July 24, 2018.

HERE IS WHEN YOU DO NOT NEED A LAWYER:

You do not immediately need a lawyer as long as the employer and insurance company are providing medical care and you are being paid your regular wages or being paid workers’ compensation benefits for missed work.

If everything goes smoothly your case should generally proceed along the following lines:

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on November 3, 2020 in the case of Mary Coleman Duchesneau v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.  The claimant alleged injuries to her bilateral hands, bilateral wrists, bilateral elbows, bilateral shoulders and her neck.  The claimant was seen by a large number of physicians that gave differing opinions concerning the diagnosis of her injuries, the recommended treatment and the causes of her injuries.

Ultimately, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that most of the claimed injuries were work related.  The Commissioner also found that the claimant had suffered 55% industrial disability and therefore was entitled to 275 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits at the claimant’s weekly rate of $338.36.

The claimant was 59 years old at the time of the workers’ compensation trial and had worked at Wal-Mart since 2003.  Over her life she had worked in a number of fields including carpentry, janitorial, retail sales, baking, dry cleaning, child care, cab driving, cashier, and photo manager.  At Hy-Vee she primarily had worked as a deli merchandise supervisor.  The claimant developed problems with both of her hands and arms which radiated up to her shoulders.  The claimant believed her problems were a result of using a handheld device to put prices on deli items for 3 to 4 hours a day.

Prior to July 1, 2017 work injuries to an employee’s shoulder were treated as an unscheduled injury.  The classification of an injury as unscheduled is very important because it generally leads to a higher level of compensation.  In unscheduled injuries the standard for determining the amount of workers’ compensation is how much the injury has a negative effect on the worker’s ability to obtain a new job in the competitive job market.

In addition to unscheduled injuries, Iowa law also has a second category called scheduled injuries.  The scheduled injuries are a list of body parts consisting of the arm, hand, fingers, leg, foot, toes, eyes, and hearing.  Each body part is given a maximum value.  For instance, an index finger is worth a maximum of 35 weeks.  If an employee loses his entire index finger in a work accident, then the employee is entitled to 35 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.  If a worker suffers an injury to his index finger that results in a 10% impairment of the index finger, then the worker is entitled to 3.5 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.  (35 weeks x 10% = 3.5 weeks).

All injuries to body parts which are not in this schedule are considered to be unscheduled injuries.  These include injuries to the head, neck, and torso.  Under Iowa law injuries to the hip are still considered unscheduled, and injuries to the shoulder were traditionally considered as unscheduled.

Employers are responsible for all injuries to employees that arise out of and in the course of employment.  In contrast, claims by an injured worker against a co-worker are much more limited.  Iowa law requires an injured worker to show gross negligence against a co-worker in order to collect damages. The elements of proof in order to establish gross negligence are:

  1. That the co-worker had knowledge of the danger;
  2. That the co-worker’s knowledge was that injury was probable, rather than merely possible; and

EMPLOYEE VERSUS INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR UNDER IOWA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW

Under Iowa law, employees are entitled to receive workers compensation benefits and independent contractors are not entitled to receive workers compensation benefits.  Corbin v. Pro-Platinum Construction & Remodeling, LLC. and Le Mars Insurance Company is an April 6, 2020 Appeal Decision from the Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner analyzing a dispute on whether an injured worker was an employee or an independent contractor.  The Commissioner affirmed the decision of the Deputy Commissioner who noted that there are many legitimate independent contract relationships in the workforce, but that in the Corbin case the employer had been trying to evade his responsibilities to provide workers compensation insurance by using false independent contractor agreements.

Under Iowa workers compensation law there are 8 main factors that are examined to determine whether an injured Claimant is a worker or an independent contractor.  I am going to review the 8 factors and discuss the applicable underlying facts in the Corbin case.

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.