The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an interesting appeal decision on November 1, 2019 in the case of Peckham v. Roberts Construction and Auto Owners Insurance Group. The claimant was helping to build a home addition when he fell from an elevated position on July 6, 2013 and suffered severe injuries to his ankles and knees that required surgery.
The case went to trial in front of a Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. The Deputy found that the claimant’s knee and ankle injuries constituted bilateral leg injuries. The bilateral injuries needed to be assessed pursuant to Iowa Code Section 85.34(2)(s) and were worth a maximum of 500 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. The Deputy found that the worker had suffered a 20% whole person impairment from his ankle and knee injuries and therefore was awarded 100 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. (500 weeks x 20% = 100 weeks).
The Deputy found that the claimant did not prove that he had suffered injuries to his back or hips.
The injured worker’s lawyer appealed the award, and the Commissioner affirmed some of the rulings, modified other rulings and reversed one ruling. The Commissioner first agreed that claimant had not suffered any hip injuries.
Second, the Commissioner found that the bilateral leg injuries were only 10% impairment rather than a 20% impairment. This reduction was based on a complicated impairment rating dispute between the defense experts and the claimant’s experts.
Third, and most importantly, the Commissioner found that the claimant had suffered a low back injury in the accident. After the claimant’s fall he clearly had ankle and knee injuries that required surgery. The claimant also had hip complaints very early on following the July 6, 2013 fall, but did not have any substantial assessment or treatment of the hip injuries. The claimant was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his low back in late 2015. The Deputy had found that because of the time gap between the 2013 fall and the discovery of the back injury in 2015, that the claimant could not carry his burden of proof to show that the back had actually been injured in the fall. The Commissioner reversed this finding. The Commissioner pointed to medical opinions that the claimant’s very early hip complaints had actually been caused by the herniated disc in the claimant’s low back.
The Commissioner looked at the evidence that showed that the claimant was now limited to sit-down work. The claimant was 52-years-old and his entire job history had been in construction. The evidence also showed that the claimant had made a very serious but unsuccessful attempt to return to construction work. Therefore, the Commissioner found that the award to the claimant should be raised from 100 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits to 375 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.