Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation Injuries

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.

A Somatic Symptom Pain Disorder is a condition in which the patient’s subjective pain profile is higher than what would be expected for the physical injury.  Doctors who work in the area of pain disorders find that approximately 5% of all pain clinic patients have Somatic Symptom Pain Disorder.  Under Iowa law an injured worker who has developed Somatic Symptom Pain Disorder is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

On February 26, 2019 the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision in the case of Swanger v. Cloverleaf Cold Storage and AIG Insurance that dealt with a Somatic Symptom Pain Disorder.

The Claimant suffered a stipulated low back injury on June 24, 2014.  An MRI showed a small low back disc herniation and an annular tear in the low back.

The recent February 14, 2019 Iowa Workers’ Compensation Appeal Decision in the case of Bonde v. Pro Cooperative and Nationwide Agribusiness dealt with a situation in which there were no witnesses to the injury.

The Claimant reported that he fell while at work and injured his low back.  The Claimant explained he had slipped and fell on some loose soybeans on the icy parking lot.  There were no witnesses to the fall.  The fall itself happened on Thursday, February 19, 2015.  The Claimant was able to continue working throughout the day.  The Claimant came to work on the next day, on Friday, and was also able to work the entire day although he was in pain.  The Claimant was off work on Saturday and Sunday.  By Monday the Claimant’s back pain was worse and he reported the injury.

The employer and insurance carrier did not give the Claimant any instructions on going to a physician.  They did not provide any workers’ compensation benefits, and they did not give the Claimant any guidance on whether or not he should come into work.

The Iowa workers’ compensation law on apportionment has gone through many changes based on statutory amendments by the legislature and judicial interpretations by the Courts.

In my last blog entry I talk about the January 17, 2019 workers’ compensation appeal decision of Byers v. Guardsmark, LLC and New Hampshire Insurance Company and concentrated on the parts of the case relating to injuries to older workers.

The Byers case also analyzed the issue of apportionment.  The Claimant in Byers had suffered severe back injuries in the late 1990s while working as a truck driver that had left him unable to work between the late 1990s and his employment as a security guard that began in 2014.  The Claimant suffered another severe back injury in 2014 while working.

An injured worker does not have to be absolutely helpless in order to be awarded permanent total disability benefits under Iowa work comp law.  A worker is considered to be permanently and totally disabled when an injury prevents the worker from performing the type of jobs his experience, training, education, intelligence and physical capacities would otherwise permit him to perform.  Additionally, a finding that a worker could theoretically perform some small amount of work does not necessarily rule out an award of permanent total disability benefits.

Older workers with preexisting problems can suffer a moderate injury that knocks them out of the workforce and entitles them to an award of permanent total disability.

Byers v. Guardsmark, LLC and New Hampshire Insurance Company is a January 17, 2019 Appeal Decision from the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that provides a good example of an older worker who ends up being awarded permanent total disability.

Under Iowa Workers’ Compensation law if an employee suffers a compensable injury, and then develops a second injury as a result of the original injury, then the second injury is also compensable as a workers’ compensation claim.  This sequence of the original work injury causing a second work injury is called a sequela of injuries.

The recent December 17, 2018 appeal decision of the Commissioner in the case of Kirkendall v. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. and The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania is a good example of a sequela injury case.

The Claimant injured her right shoulder when she fell on ice on December 10, 2009.  After a period of conservative treatment the Claimant began a series of right shoulder surgeries.  The first right shoulder surgery was on April 7, 2010.  The second right shoulder surgery was on December 17, 2010.

Iowa workers’ compensation is an adversary system of justice.  The insurance companies will sometimes reject legitimate work injuries, and will frequently pay less than the full value of a work injury.  If your claim is rejected or underpaid you have the right to hire your own lawyer to contest the dispute.

Our lawyers have reviewed the cases of many injured workers that have been rejected or denied by work comp insurance companies.  In many of these rejected and denied cases we have been able to obtain our clients money and medical care.

Similarly, many people have come to us after being offered or paid small amounts of money.  In many of those cases we have been able to obtain additional compensation benefits for the clients.

I decided to look for a Christmas related topic for this work comp blog entry.  The 2002 workers’ compensation case of Smith v. Carl A. Nelson & Company and Wausau Insurance Companies had a Christmas tie-in.  The Claimant was a construction worker with Carl A. Nelson & Company and generally performed concrete work.  The Claimant was laid off during the winters.  The Claimant underwent regular performance reviews and his productivity before his work injury had always been rated as “exceptional.”

In May of 1999 the Claimant suffered a low-back injury.  The Claimant received conservative treatment and did not undergo surgery.  However, he was off work for the remainder of the 1999 construction.  The Claimant was not able to return to work until May of 2000.  The Claimant testified that he had a difficult time performing his usual duties during the 2000 construction season and co-workers had to help him.

In late fall of 2000 the Claimant was placed on his usual winter lay off.  At the start of the lay off the Claimant was not worried about his job, but he testified he figured he was in trouble when he was not invited to the annual Christmas party.  The Claimant was not called back to work in the spring of 2001.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on November 30, 2018 in the case of Clay v. Bridgestone Americas and Old Republic Insurance Co.  The case involved a hernia claim with an injury date of October 25, 2013 and a low back claim with an injury date of June 27, 2014.  In this blog post I am going to first talk about hernia injuries, and then talk about the importance of maximum medical improvement in Iowa work comp cases.

  1. HERNIA INJURIES IN IOWA WORK COMP CASES

The Claimant had some abdominal pain in May and June of 2013.  The doctors were not able to find any explanation for the pain.  On October 25, 2013 the Claimant lifted a 50-pound bag as part of her job and felt a twinge in her stomach.  The October 25, 2013 pain continued and the Claimant saw several physicians before she was diagnosed with a hernia on December 27, 2013.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation law on when an employee is entitled to work comp benefits from a fall on the job has been very uncertain for a number of years.  On November 16, 2018 the Iowa Supreme Court issued a decision that helps clarify the Iowa law.  The Supreme Court case was Bluml v. Dee Jay’s, Inc. d/b/a Long John Silvers and Commerce & Industry Insurance Company.  In the Bluml case the Iowa Supreme Court set out different rules for different types of fall situations:

  1. Where an employee falls from an elevated position such as a ladder or scaffolding the injury will generally be compensable under Iowa Workers’ Compensation law.
  1. Where an employee falls while on stairs the injury will also generally be compensable under Iowa Workers’ Compensation law.