Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation Injuries

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner entered an Appeal Decision on March 17, 2021 in the case of Baker vs. MSC Industrial Direct Co. and Ace American Insurance Co.  The Claimant was injured when a cabinet weighing between 750 and 1,000 pounds fell on him on April 17, 2017.  The Claimant’s main problems were headaches, thinking, memory and frequent seizure-like episodes.  The Claimant never returned to work after this injury.  The work comp insurance company directed the care in the case and the Claimant was seen by many health care providers.  The health care providers generally believed the Claimant had suffered a concussion and traumatic head injury that resulted in serious lingering problems.

The workers’ compensation insurance company solicited multiple defense medical opinions from non-treating physicians, and on the basis of these defense medical opinions terminated paying weekly benefits and providing medical care approximately three years after the injury.

The case came on for trial in front of a Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner on March 9, 2020, and the trial decision was filed on July 31, 2020 finding in favor of the employer and insurance carrier on the issues of weekly benefits and medical care.  The Deputy Commissioner relied on the opinions of the non-treating medical experts. Three defense experts provided opinions based on record reviews without meeting the Claimant.  One additional expert met the Claimant on one occasion.  The defense experts gave the opinions that the Claimant’s problems were never correlated with any objective findings, and in various ways suggested that the Claimant had other stressors in his life, and he was taking advantage of the work incident.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner entered an Appeal Decision in the case of Kuehl v. Foley Company and CNA Insurance on February 3, 2021.  The case is an example of how work injuries that are impacted by psychological issues are handled in Iowa work comp law.

The injured worker did not graduate from high school or obtain a GED.  The Claimant began working as a crane operator when he was 17 years old and continued in that profession for 30 years until he was injured in July of 2017.  The Claimant was climbing into an excavator when he slipped and fell about 3 to 5 feet and landed on his right heel, and felt immediate pain in his back.

The Claimant went through extensive medical care and evaluation.  All of the doctors agreed that the Claimant did suffer some type of low back injury from the fall, and all of the doctors agreed that the Claimant did not require surgery.  The Claimant went through physical therapy without improvement. He took a number of different medications without improvement.  The Claimant generally resisted epidural steroid injections, when these were given, they also did not help.  MRI and EMG testing did not reveal any significant problems.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on March 5, 2021 in the case of Brandt v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc. and Liberty Mutual Insurance Group.  The case is a good example of how eye injuries are handled under Iowa workers’ compensation law.

The Claimant was born and raised in the Netherlands.  The Claimant was injured in June of 2013 while she was working as a semi-truck driver in the United States.   A bungee cord snapped, and the hook struck her directly in the right eyeball.

Generally, the maximum recovery for injury to a single eye is 140 weeks of PPD benefits.  Injuries to both eyes can be compensated by up to 500 weeks of PPD benefits.  In addition to her eye injury, the Claimant also suffered from post-traumatic headaches, dizziness, neck pain, shoulder pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Under Iowa law the combination of a scheduled injury such as the Claimant’s eye injury along with these other injuries which are body as a whole injuries, results in all of the injuries being assessed and compensated together on the basis of industrial disability.

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.

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

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.

Under Iowa workers’ compensation law there are two ways in worker injured by COVID-19 can recover work comp benefits.  The choice of method depends on whether the injury developed from a prolonged and passive exposure; or whether the infection was linked to a sudden, specific incident of exposure.

If a worker is injured as a result of a sudden and specific incident of exposure then the claim is handled as a regular workers’ compensation injury under Chapter 85.

If the injury is found to have developed from a prolonged and passive exposure, then the remedy is under Iowa Code Chapter 85A which deals with occupational diseases.