Articles Posted in Weekly Benefits

Under Iowa law, injuries to body parts such as the head, neck, back, and hips were traditionally compensated based on their effect on a workers’ future earning capacity.

Among the statutory changes that went into effect for injuries after July 1, 2017 was an amendment to Iowa Code Section 85.34(2)(v) which provides:

“If a worker who is eligible for compensation under this paragraph (head, neck, back, or hip) returns to work or is offered work for which the employee receives or would receive the same or greater salary, wages or earnings than the employee received at the time of the injury, the employee shall be compensated based only upon the employee’s functional impairment resulting from the injury, and not in relation to the employee’s earning capacity.”

Under Iowa law if the payment of weekly benefits to an injured employee is denied, delayed or terminated, and the employer cannot show a reasonable cause or excuse, then the injured worker is entitled to be awarded penalty benefits.  Penalty benefits are in addition to the benefits that were not properly paid.  The penalty benefits can be up to 50% of the amount of the weekly benefits that were not properly paid.  The exact amount of the penalty benefits is up to the discretion of the work comp judges.

Unfortunately, some employers and insurance companies do a very poor job of paying weekly benefits in the correct amount and in a timely manner.

Set out below is a modified version of a Post Trial Brief I filed in a case involving very serious injuries and terrible compliance by the insurance company in paying the benefits that were owed.  I have changed the names and dates for privacy purposes.

Iowa law provides that for work injuries prior to July 1, 2017 an employer is fully liable for compensating all of an injured worker’s disability that arises out of and in the course of the employee’s employment with the employer.

However, Iowa Code Section 85.34(7)(b)(2) provides that where a worker suffers two industrial disability injuries with the same employer, the worker should be paid industrial disability based on the combined disability from the two injuries; and the employer should receive a credit for the benefits paid for the first injury.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on November 5, 2018 in the case of Ditsworth v. ICON Ag, Federated Insurance and Nationwide Insurance examining an apportionment situation.

If a work comp case goes to trial and the injured worker has not yet reached maximum medical improvement, and is not capable of working, then the worker is given what is called a running award.  This means that the Claimant is entitled to receive weekly healing period benefits until the worker does reach maximum medical improvement or is able to return to work.  On reaching maximum medical improvement or returning to work, the worker would then be entitled to receive permanent partial disability benefits.

Kramer v. Dohrn Transfer Company, Inc. and American Zurich Insurance Co. is a July 12, 2018 appeal decision from the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that deals with a contested running award situation.  The employee was a truck driver who suffered a mental health injury from a May 23, 2014 motor vehicle accident while driving for his employer.  The other vehicle involved in the accident failed to stop at a stop sign.  The 18-year-old driver of the other vehicle died in the accident.

The Claimant was very distraught about the accident and stayed off work until June 4, 2014.  The Claimant then returned to work through January 14, 2015.  During the approximate seven months between June 4, 2014 and January 14, 2015 the Claimant was having a lot of problems.  He blew up at his supervisors one day when they asked him to deliver tires.  One of his supervisors took him off work for a day because the Claimant was having problems.  The Claimant saw a number of doctors and received medication.  The Claimant reported to his doctors that he was anxious about driving.  The Claimant’s mother also died on July 20, 2014 and this was an additional source of stress.

In some Iowa work comp cases foot or leg injuries end up causing low back problems to the injured worker because of changes in their gait.  Iowa workers’ compensation law provides that if a worker suffers an injury to one part of the body that ends up causing an injury to a second part of the body, both of the injured body parts are compensable under Iowa work comp law.  The most common type of a spill over injury is a worker who injures his foot or leg and ends up with a limp.  Sometimes the limp will unfortunately cause hip or low back problems.  In this situation the worker is entitled to receive compensation for both the original leg injury and the later back injury that develops as a result of the limp.

Additionally, an injury to a scheduled member that results in an injury to an unscheduled member will be treated as a combined unscheduled injury.  For example, if the worker injures his leg, the maximum recovery the worker can receive is 220 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.  If the worker has a 10% impairment of the leg, he is therefore entitled to 22 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

If the same worker’s leg injury causes back problems, the injury to both the leg and back shift out of the scheduled injury category to the unscheduled category.  For unscheduled injuries the worker is entitled to be compensated for the extent to which the injuries affect the worker’s future earning capacity.  Generally, a worker will receive higher compensation for an unscheduled injury than for a scheduled injury.

The Iowa Court of Appeals filed a Decision on November 8, 2017 in the case of Norton v. Hy-Vee, Inc. which addresses the Iowa law on the effect of accommodations to an employee after a work injury.   In the Norton case the Claimant was a pharmacy tech that suffered a soft tissue neck injury.  No surgery was required for the neck injury.  The Claimant and the employer both agreed that it was a permanent injury and that the Claimant’s ability to work had been reduced from 40 hours a week to 30 hours a week because of pain.   Hy-Vee did accommodate the worker’s limitations and allowed her to work 6 hours a day and 5 days per week.

The case also involved a disputed mental health claim.  The Claimant argued that she developed depression and anxiety from the injury.  The employer argued that the depression and anxiety were caused by stressors in her personal life.

The Claimant was injured prior to July 1, 2017 and therefore the traditional Iowa law on workers’ compensation damages applied.  (See here for an explanation of damages in post-July 1, 2017 Iowa work comp injuries).

Stealing is always a bad idea.  Stealing from your employer will usually cost you your job, and also has a negative effect on Iowa work comp claims.

If a worker is injured in Iowa before July 1, 2017, and has not yet reached maximum medical improvement, the employer needs to either provide appropriate light duty work for the injured worker, or pay weekly healing period benefits.

Sometimes an employer will terminate an injured worker before that worker reaches maximum medical improvement.  If the employer terminates the injured worker before the worker has reached maximum medical improvement, the worker must pay the terminated employee healing period benefits unless the worker was terminated for misconduct that is:

We have added a new section to our website discussing a workers’ eligibility for healing period benefits if they are laid off or terminated.

Under Iowa workers’ compensation law an injured employee is entitled to receive healing period benefits if they are laid off or if their place of employment closes until the injured employee reaches maximum medical improvement.

If a worker is terminated after they are injured, they are generally eligible to receive healing period benefits until they reach maximum medical improvement.

The human shoulder has a tremendous range of motion that allows us to perform a wide variety of activities. However, the shoulder is a very complex joint that can be hurt on the job from a wide variety of causes. Shoulder injuries are classified as unscheduled injuries and are therefore compensated based on the effect of the injury on a worker’s loss of future potential earning capacity.

We have added a new section to our website that talks about liability and payment for damages for shoulder injuries under Iowa workers’ compensation law. You can see this new section here.

Merry Christmas everyone. This is our holiday card from last year. My wife took it on her cell phone while we were putting up decorations.

Dirk & Dogs Christmas #1.jpg
Moose is on my right side, and Bub is on my left side. They are allegedly Jack Russell-Rat Terrier mixes, but they must have something else in them because they are a little bigger than either a Jack Russell Terrier or a Rat Terrier. They are siblings, and they have spent every day of their lives together. The only disagreements they ever have relate to chew toys. We always get two of each toy, but somehow they usually decide that one is better, and they both want that one.

You can see a picture of Bub illustrating a blog post about workers’ compensation and alcohol here. You can see another picture of Bub and Moose together featured in a personal injury blog post about dog bites here.