Under Iowa workers’ compensation law if there has been a change of condition in a worker’s situation since the case was settled or went to hearing the worker can receive additional disability benefits.  The worker needs to show that the change in condition was related to the original injury.  The change can be either economic or physical.

The recent case of Dante Toriello v. Mercy Medical Center is an interesting example of a review-reopening situation.

Dante Toriello was an osteopathic physician and surgeon who was employed by Mercy Medical Center. In 2006 Dr. Toriello injured his neck while performing an osteopathic manipulation on a patient. Dr. Toriello was 58 at the time of the injury.

Dr. Toriello did not undergo surgery.  He did reduce the amount of work he performed.  The case went to trial and Dr. Toriello received an industrial disability award of 45%.  This entitled him to receive 225 weeks of disability benefits at his weekly rate of $1,163.00.  After the trial Dr. Toriello began to have more problems with his neck condition.  Dr. Toriello also began to have more and more problems with pain shooting from his neck and down his right arm into his right hand.

Dr. Toriello began to see a very large number of physicians for assessments and treatment of his condition.

Dr. Toriello also began to further cut back on his work.  After the first workers’ compensation trial he was generally seeing 45 to 60 patients a day.  He cut this back to 8 to 10 patients a day.

On July 14, 2011 Dr. Toriello’s condition had advanced to the point that he took what was scheduled to be a six month medical leave.   It turned out that Dr. Toriello did not return to the practice of medicine.

On May 21, 2012 the Social Security Administration awarded Dr. Toriello Social Security Disability benefits.  The Social Security Administration found that Dr. Toriello was not capable of returning to past relevant work as a family physician.  The Social Security Administration also noted that Dr. Toriello was then 63 years old and approaching retirement age.  Taking into account Dr. Toriello’s age, the Social Security Administration did not feel there are an adequate number of jobs he could transfer to with his limitations.  (The standards for total disability are different under the Social Security Administration rules and the rules of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner.  However, a finding of disability under the Social Security Administration rules does generally lead to a higher award in the Iowa Workers’ Compensation system).

The review-reopening case came on for trial on October 20, 2014.  Each side presented extensive evidence concerning the extent of the change in Dr. Toriello’s condition, and whether or not he could continue to practice medicine.

One of the big issues in the case was that a number of the doctors felt that surgery could help Dr. Toriello’s condition, but he had chosen not to undergo the surgery.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that Dr. Toriello was not required to go through the risk of the surgery in order to recover additional work comp benefits.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner also found that Dr. Toriello’s original neck injury was a cause of both his worsened physical condition, and a decline in his compensation.

The Work Comp Commissioner also found that Dr. Toriello was limited to sedentary work.

However, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner also found that Dr. Toriello was very intelligent and skilled, and there were a number of other types of jobs that he could perform such as being a consulting physician that would fit within his restrictions.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner also implied that Dr. Toriello’s choice not to pursue some of these other jobs may have been based on the fact that Dr. Toriello had accrued substantial assets over his career and was living very comfortably; and was not interested in working for much lower compensation than he had during his career.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner ruled that Dr. Toriello’s industrial disability had increased from 45% to 75%.  Therefore, the Defendants were required to pay Dr. Toriello an additional 150 weeks of disability benefits at his rate of $1,163.00.

If you are an Iowa worker who has previously settled a work comp case or received a work comp award, you can potentially receive additional benefits if your physical condition or financial situation worsens.

Iowa law does require that a review reopening claim be started within three years of the last payment of weekly benefits.

If you have any questions about a review reopening case or any other workers’ compensation issues, please contact our office.