The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on December 1, 2017 in the case of Wilson v. Idex Corporation and Liberty Mutual Insurance. One of the issues in the Wilson case was how non-work health problems that the Claimant developed after his work injury should affect the amount of disability to be awarded.
Under Iowa Work Comp law post-injury accidents are not to be used to reduce the amount of disability awarded. The measurement of industrial disability is determined at the time healing period ends.
In the Wilson case the Claimant had worked for Viking Pump for 38 years. At the time of his work injury the Claimant was a furnace tender. The furnace tender job was very physically demanding and the furnace tenders worked a great deal of overtime.
The Claimant suffered a left shoulder injury on April 26, 2013.
The doctors found a rotator cuff tear but recommended against surgery. The doctors also recommended that the Claimant be moved to a less physically stressful job.
The Claimant did transfer positions to become a truck driver operating a straight truck which drove raw materials and products between various Viking Pump locations. The Claimant testified that while he had pain, he was able to perform the truck driving job.
The Claimant had earned $21.55 per hour as a furnace tender, and when he moved to the truck driving job his pay went down $.50 to $21.05 per hour. However, the truck driving job did not have overtime, and the furnace tender job had a great deal of overtime. In the last year before his injury while working as a furnace tender the Claimant’s gross income was $67,665.22, of which $22,122.94 was overtime. In his first year as a truck driver, the Claimant only earned $44,125.94.
After the Claimant’s work injury on April 26, 2013 he also developed two non-work health problems. First, he developed low back problems that kept him off of work for ten weeks with a herniated disk. The Claimant also developed rheumatoid arthritis which primarily affects his hands, but also has a negative impact on his back and feet.
The Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner awarded the Claimant 35% industrial disability.
The Defendants appealed the award arguing that it was too high. The Defendants argued that either the Claimant’s non-work herniated disk or his rheumatoid arthritis would have forced him to move from his furnace tender job to a less strenuous position.
The Defendants also argued that older workers like the Claimant frequently transferred to truck driving jobs later in their careers because it was significantly lighter duty than production jobs in the factory.
In his Appeal Decision the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner approved the award of 35% industrial disability, and rejected the defense arguments that the award should be reduced because of the post-injury health problems that the Claimant developed. The Commissioner ruled that the existing law should be followed that post-injury accidents could not be used to reduce the amount of disability based on the work injury.
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