Under Iowa law head and back injuries are both compensated under an industrial disability analysis. Industrial disability tries to measure a worker’s loss of earning capacity, and not just the functional disability from an injury. Functional impairment is an element to be considered in determining the loss of earning capacity, but consideration must also be given to the injured worker’s age, education, qualifications, experience, motivation, loss of earnings, severity situs of the injury, work restrictions, inability to engage in employment for which the worker is fitted, and the employer’s offer of work or failure to so offer. Loss of industrial disability/loss of earning capacity is paid as a percentage of 500 weeks.
In the recent July 3, 2018 appeal decision of Bahe v. Iowa Department of Transportation, the Workers Compensation Commissioner affirmed a decision relating to a case in which the worker suffered both a head injury and back injuries.
The claimant was injured while operating a snow plow during a blizzard as part of his job with the DOT. The snow plow went off the road and into a ditch. The claimant was unconscious when he was found by emergency responders. The medical providers documented that he had a large contusion on the top of his head. The initial assessment by the doctors was that the claimant had suffered a closed head injury and concussion.
The claimant definitely suffered one seizure after the snow plow accident, and may have suffered a few smaller seizures. As a result of the seizures the claimant was prohibited from driving for six months. The claimant did not have reoccurrence of the seizures during that six months, and was able to return to driving.
The claimant also suffered fractures to his vertebrae from the lumbar back up through the thoracic back. The back injuries did not require surgery. The doctors found that the claimant suffered a 23% impairment of the whole person from his back fractures, but could eventually return to work without any permanent restrictions relating to the back.
The extent of damages analysis of the Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, which was affirmed by the Commissioner, was as follows:
“The claimant testified that he could perform any job he has previously held. He has been told to carefully confine lifting to tasks which allow him to keep both hands close to his waist and chest. This is industrially limiting, requiring more time to perform some physical tasks. Also important is the head injury which already has caused the claimant to miss months of work, as he was disqualified from driving. If the concussion symptoms reappear it could be catastrophic to claimant’s earning capacity. Even the episode that already has occurred could limit claimant’s ability to find other work even without a return of symptoms. He has a BAW impairment rating of 23 percent just for the back. Considering the claimant’s medical impairments, training, permanent restrictions, daily pain, as well as all other factors of industrial disability, the claimant is found to have suffered a 40 percent loss of earnings capacity.”
Therefore, the claimant was entitled to receive 200 weeks of industrial disability.
A major factor that limited the award of damages was that the Department of Transportation continued to employ the claimant after his injury.
Please contact our law firm if you have any questions about head injuries or any other Iowa workers’ compensation issues.