In some Iowa work comp cases foot or leg injuries end up causing low back problems to the injured worker because of changes in their gait.  Iowa workers’ compensation law provides that if a worker suffers an injury to one part of the body that ends up causing an injury to a second part of the body, both of the injured body parts are compensable under Iowa work comp law.  The most common type of a spill over injury is a worker who injures his foot or leg and ends up with a limp.  Sometimes the limp will unfortunately cause hip or low back problems.  In this situation the worker is entitled to receive compensation for both the original leg injury and the later back injury that develops as a result of the limp.

Additionally, an injury to a scheduled member that results in an injury to an unscheduled member will be treated as a combined unscheduled injury.  For example, if the worker injures his leg, the maximum recovery the worker can receive is 220 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.  If the worker has a 10% impairment of the leg, he is therefore entitled to 22 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

If the same worker’s leg injury causes back problems, the injury to both the leg and back shift out of the scheduled injury category to the unscheduled category.  For unscheduled injuries the worker is entitled to be compensated for the extent to which the injuries affect the worker’s future earning capacity.  Generally, a worker will receive higher compensation for an unscheduled injury than for a scheduled injury.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner issued an Appeal Decision on April 2, 2018 in the case of Buchanan v. Presbyterian Homes & Services, Inc. and Zurich North American Insurance Co.  The Buchanan case is a good example of an original foot injury that spills over into the low back.

Ms. Buchanan worked as a CNA at a nursing home facility.  She injured her left foot and ankle on February 2, 2014 while operating a Hoyer lift.  As a result of this ankle injury the worker eventually underwent surgery to repair torn tendons in her ankle.

The worker suffered an altered gait over an extended period of time both before and after her surgery that led to low back pain.  The claimant underwent two nerve block procedures on her low back and a radial frequency ablation.

As a result of the back injury the worker was given permanent restrictions of lifting no more than 20 pounds on an occasional basis and no more than 10 pounds on a frequent basis.  The worker had been going to school to become a registered nurse at the time of her injuries, but discontinued her studies because her injuries would have prevented her from working as a registered nurse.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that the combined foot and low back injuries were a 65% industrial disability and therefore the injured worker was entitled to receive 325 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

If you have any questions about spill over injuries or other workers’ compensation issues, please contact our office.