If an injured worker in an Iowa workers’ compensation case is found to have suffered permanent total disability, then the worker is entitled to receive weekly benefits for the rest of their life.

Under Iowa law, permanent total disability does not mean a state of absolute helplessness.  Permanent total disability occurs when the injury wholly disables the employee from performing work that the employee’s experience, training, education, intelligence and physical capabilities would otherwise permit the employee to perform.  A finding that an injured worker could perform some work despite the worker’s physical and educational limitations does not rule out a finding of permanent total disability.

In a recent May 3, 2018 appeal decision in the case of Houston v. Harding Enterprises, LLC d/b/a Tuffy Auto Service Center and Accident Fund National Insurance Company, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner reviewed and approved a decision in which permanent total disability benefits had been awarded.

The injured worker was 55 years old.  The Claimant was not a high school graduate, but he did obtain a GED about 20 years after leaving high school.  The Claimant had an automotive repair certification from Kirkwood Community College.  The Claimant’s work history was exclusively in jobs requiring heavy physical labor.  The Claimant had a felony conviction and had spent eight years in federal prison.

The Claimant also had an extensive history of earlier work injuries.  There were over 10 previous work comp injuries including a neck surgery, a right biceps surgery, two right shoulder surgeries, a left shoulder surgery, and two left elbow surgeries.

On September 26, 2014 the Claimant fell backwards over a motor.  The medical providers found a fracture at the thoracic 7 level, and a herniated disk at the lumber 3-4 level.

The doctors agreed that surgery would not help the Claimant’s condition.  The defense doctors gave the opinion that the Claimant could return to work without restrictions.

However, the return to work did not go well.  The Claimant’s duties as a mechanic were modified so that he could rest whenever he wanted, but he still was not able to do his regular duties.  The Claimant also could not complete an entire day of work.

The insurance company hired investigators to perform surveillance on the Claimant.  The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner ruled that the surveillance videos were not particularly helpful based on the following factors:

  1. At least part of the time the individual in the videos referred to as the Claimant clearly was not the Claimant.
  2. At times in the videos the home referred to as the Claimant’s residence clearly was not his home.
  3. The report that accompanied the surveillance video contained numerous errors and inaccuracies.

The Claimant underwent an independent medical exam.  The report from the independent medical exam recommended that the Claimant’s lifting be limited to 15 pounds only between knee and chest levels.  The report also recommended the Claimant avoid squatting, bending, and overhead work and lifting.  Finally, the report recommended that the Claimant should alternate sitting, standing, and walking as needed for comfort.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that the independent medical examination report was more compelling and persuasive than the defense medical reports.  The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner also reasoned that although the Claimant had a lengthy history of prior work injuries, he had always managed to return to the competitive work world before the low back injury.  The Commissioner found that the low back injury from falling over the motor could be seen as the final straw.  The Commissioner found that before this last injury the Claimant had earning capacity, but after the injury the Claimant had suffered a 100% loss of earning capacity.

Therefore, the Claimant was entitled to receive weekly permanent total disability benefits for the rest of his life.

Please contact our law firm if you have any questions about permanent total disability or any other workers’ compensation issues.