Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation Injuries

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.

On February 5, 2020 Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Michelle McGovern issued an arbitration decision in the case of Chavez v. MS Technology, LLC and Westfield Insurance Co.  This is one of the first cases to interpret the new Iowa work comp law concerning shoulder injuries and a new requirement that injured workers must satisfy in order to receive industrial disability/loss of earning capacity damages.

The Claimant was 61 years old and had worked for her employer cleaning labs since 2010.

The Claimant injured her right shoulder on February 5, 2018 while squeezing water out of a mop with a broken ringer system.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision in the case of Mynor Ferrez v. Wyckoff Heating & Cooling and LeMars Insurance Company.  This case is a good illustration of the importance of following up and pursuing a workers’ compensation claim quickly.

In May of 2014 the claimant was 35 years old and working as a heating and cooling technician for Wyckoff Heating & Cooling.  His main job was installing air conditioning systems in new commercial buildings.

On May 21, 2014 the claimant tripped and fell down a flight of stairs.  The claimant had low back and right shoulder pain after the fall.  The claimant went to the doctor a few times, but then returned to his regular duties without pursuing additional medical care.  The claimant was terminated from his job on October 10, 2014.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an appeal decision on January 10, 2020 in the case of Sherilyn Fasig Snitker v. Birdnow Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Birdnow Motors and Seabright Insurance Co.  The case is an example of how an injury will be compensated differently for someone that does physical labor versus someone who has a lighter duty job.

The claimant worked as a car salesperson.  She injured her low back on February 8, 2013 when she fell on the car lot.

The claimant underwent six weeks of physical therapy that did not help her condition.  She then had an MRI which showed a number of problems in the lumbar spine.