Under Iowa law a worker is entitled to be compensated for mental injuries that are caused or aggravated by a physical work injury.

The recent Iowa Workers’ Compensation Appeal Decision of Justin Doty v. Clearly Builders Corporation and Zurich North American Insurance Company is a good example of a mental injury developing from a physical injury.

The Appeal Decision also addresses an unusual dispute over the correct weekly workers’ compensation rate.

Justin Doty was injured on January 15, 2010 while he was working as part of a crew installing trusses on a building.  A board that he was standing on broke and he fell 18 feet to the ground and landed on his buttocks.

Justin suffered compression fractures of two of his thoracic disks from the fall.

Justin Doty did not require surgery, but as a result of his back injuries the defense doctor gave an opinion that he had suffered a 19% whole person impairment.  The independent medical exam physician felt that Justin suffered an 18% whole person impairment.

After a long period of treatment, Justin underwent a functional capacity evaluation.  The results of this test indicated that he had made a valid effort.  The functional capacity evaluation found that he should lift no more than 50 pounds, and he should only lift that amount of weight on a rare basis.

The independent medical exam physician additionally recommended that Justin should avoid repetitive bending, stooping, or twisting because of his back injury.

Justin also suffered mental injuries as a result of the fall.  He developed depression and anxiety and began suffering periodic panic attacks.  Justin found that he could no longer work on roofs or other elevated positions.  Perhaps most significantly, he had become fearful and uncomfortable being around other people.

The Defendants attempted to blame Justin’s mental problems on stresses relating to his three children, a custody battle over one of those children, and health problems of his mother.  However, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that the Justin’s experts were more persuasive on the issue of what caused his mental injuries.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner concluded that Justin had suffered 50% industrial disability.  Therefore, he was entitled to receive 250 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.

The Commissioner also ordered that the defendants pay for mental health treatment for Justin.

The case also had an interesting issue concerning the correct amount of the weekly workers’ compensation rate.  Under Iowa law the first 13 representational weeks immediately before the injury are averaged to help determine the proper weekly rate.  Both sides agreed that Justin was being paid $11.00 per hour at the time of his injuries.  The defendants argued that the claimant only worked a little more than 29 hours per week, and his average weekly wage was $321.14.

Justin testified that he actually worked approximately 60 hours per week, but he was consistently paid for fewer hours than he actually worked.  Justin explained that he generally was paid for 40 hours per week which worked out to $440.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner ruled that Justin’s testimony was much more believable than the claims of the employer on the issue of past earnings.  Therefore, the Commissioner set the workers’ compensation rate based on Justin’s testimony.

Contact our office if you have any questions about issues in Iowa work comp law including mental health injuries and the correct calculation of the weekly rate of compensation.