The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an appeal decision on January 10, 2020 in the case of Sherilyn Fasig Snitker v. Birdnow Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Birdnow Motors and Seabright Insurance Co.  The case is an example of how an injury will be compensated differently for someone that does physical labor versus someone who has a lighter duty job.

The claimant worked as a car salesperson.  She injured her low back on February 8, 2013 when she fell on the car lot.

The claimant underwent six weeks of physical therapy that did not help her condition.  She then had an MRI which showed a number of problems in the lumbar spine.

After the MRI she continued with physical therapy, medications and injections.

The claimant also was treated with bilateral lumbar median branch nerve blocks and radial frequency ablations.  She also received chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture.

Unfortunately, none of this medical care was helpful, and claimant underwent surgery on July 9, 2014 consisting of a lumbar laminectomy and fusion.

Following the fusion surgery of 2014 the claimant continued to have back problems and continued to undergo a great deal of medical evaluation and treatment.   The Claimant was prescribed extensive narcotic medication.

The claimant was assessed by a number of different physicians as part of the workers’ compensation litigation process.  The first doctor gave the claimant a 21% whole person impairment rating but did not feel that permanent restrictions were necessary.

The second doctor advocated that the claimant reduce her work from 40 hours a week to 24 hours a week and the claimant followed this advice.

The third doctor recommended a 28% whole person impairment rating and recommended restrictions of lifting no more than 10 pounds.

The fourth doctor felt it reasonable to continue the claimant’s medications but also felt that the claimant could continue in her job as a sales associate.

The claimant was 55 years old at the time of the hearing.  After high school she had operated an in-home day care for a number of years.  She also obtained an EMT certification and volunteered with the local fire department for 19 years.

In 1995 the claimant began selling cars with the predecessor for Birdnow Motors.  Birdnow Motors purchased this company and the claimant continued to work for Birdnow up until 2005.

The claimant then relocated out of the area briefly, but then when she returned to Iowa she worked as a financing manager for another car dealer for several years.  The claimant rejoined Birdnow Motors in 2012 as a salesman and continued working at Birdnow Motors through the date of her February 8, 2013 injury and up until March of 2017 when she voluntarily quit her job.

The workers’ compensation case went to trial on April 16, 2018.  Claimant explained that she quit her job because she felt that the medications made it impossible to sharp enough to continue to do the job. She also explained that she did not look for another job between quitting in March of 2017 and the trial on April 16, 2018 because she felt the mediations made her unable to do any type of work.

The Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that heard the case at trial, and the head Commissioner on appeal both agreed that the claimant was entitled to an award of 40% industrial disability, which equals 200 weeks of PPD benefits.  Their reasoning was that the claimant had been able to continue working as a sales associate for several years after her injury on a 60% basis.  In effect, her ability to work had been reduced by 40%; and the award was for 40% industrial disability.  The Commissioner did not believe that the Claimant’s work injury was the cause of her eventually quitting work completely.

A worker that performs physical labor who had the same injury and lifting restrictions as the claimant would have received a much higher award.  An older worker with limited education would have had a chance to receive permanent total disability benefits.