The Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner entered a recent Appeal Decision on March 19, 2019 in the case of Tammy Roberson v. Sears Holdings Corporation and Indemnity Insurance Company of North America which highlights the importance of expert opinions in Iowa work comp cases. In some situations it is very clear that an injury was caused by work. This would be where a worker is struck by a forklift, cut by a knife, etc. However, in many other situations, it is not always clear whether an injury was caused by cumulative trauma at work or whether an injury was unrelated to work and just caused by natural degenerative changes.
Under Iowa law, the cause of an injury is essentially within the domain of expert testimony. The Work Comp Commissioner considers the expert medical evidence along with all of the other evidence in the case. Testimony from non-medical witnesses may be used to support or attack expert opinions. The amount of weight to be given to an expert opinion is determined initially by the Deputy Work Comp Commissioners at trial, and then by the Commissioner if the case is appealed. The Deputy Commissioners and the Commission have the power to accept or reject expert opinion either in whole or in part.
In the Roberson case, the Claimant was 53 years old at the time of trial. She had a high school education. The Claimant also had an extensive and varied work history. She had worked as a flagger on a construction crew. She had worked as a supervisor of tar pickers, power washers and ropers. The Claimant had also worked as a bartender, waitress and a cook. She had worked as a shipping and receiving clerk. She had worked as a CNA. She had worked as a planter in a greenhouse. She had worked in a grocery store as a cash register operator and stocking shelves and working at the customer service desk. She had worked for a railroad support company and drove railroad crews around the country. Her job with Sears Holdings Corporation included customer service, stocking, inventory, assembly, shipping, and operating a forklift.