If a work comp case goes to trial and the injured worker has not yet reached maximum medical improvement, and is not capable of working, then the worker is given what is called a running award.  This means that the Claimant is entitled to receive weekly healing period benefits until the worker does reach maximum medical improvement or is able to return to work.  On reaching maximum medical improvement or returning to work, the worker would then be entitled to receive permanent partial disability benefits.

Kramer v. Dohrn Transfer Company, Inc. and American Zurich Insurance Co. is a July 12, 2018 appeal decision from the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that deals with a contested running award situation.  The employee was a truck driver who suffered a mental health injury from a May 23, 2014 motor vehicle accident while driving for his employer.  The other vehicle involved in the accident failed to stop at a stop sign.  The 18-year-old driver of the other vehicle died in the accident.

The Claimant was very distraught about the accident and stayed off work until June 4, 2014.  The Claimant then returned to work through January 14, 2015.  During the approximate seven months between June 4, 2014 and January 14, 2015 the Claimant was having a lot of problems.  He blew up at his supervisors one day when they asked him to deliver tires.  One of his supervisors took him off work for a day because the Claimant was having problems.  The Claimant saw a number of doctors and received medication.  The Claimant reported to his doctors that he was anxious about driving.  The Claimant’s mother also died on July 20, 2014 and this was an additional source of stress.

The Claimant had a confrontation with a dispatcher and was suspended for 22 days for violation of the company’s workplace harassment policy.  The Claimant told Dohrn Transfer that he would be leaving his employment on January 31, 2015, and he had a new job waiting for him.  It is not clear whether the Claimant actually had a job lined up.

On January 14, 2015 the Claimant asked for extra vacation time from Dohrn that was not approved.  The Claimant immediately quit his job.

After quitting his job the Claimant continued to struggle in his daily life.  The Claimant’s problems included difficulty with sleeping, moodiness, outbursts of anger, and difficulty concentrating and remembering things.  The Claimant spent most of his time sitting and staring into space.  This was a dramatic change from the Claimant’s pre-accident personality.  The Claimant had always been an easy-going and productive person.

Claimant’s attorney arranged for Claimant to see a Des Moines psychiatrist on November 2, 2015.  The psychiatrist assessed the Claimant as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the accident.  The psychiatrist did not think the Claimant was capable of competitive employment.  The psychiatrist found that the death of the Claimant’s mother was an additional stressor, but the cause of the PTSD was the accident.    The psychiatrist found that the care provided by the Claimant’s various doctors and counselors had been reasonable and necessary, and partly effective.  The psychiatrist felt that the Claimant should continue to receive medication and therapy and that he had not yet reached maximum medical improvement.

The Defendants also had the Claimant seen by a psychiatrist.  The defense expert agreed that the Claimant could not currently return to work as a truck driver.

The case went to trial on July 21, 2016.  The Defendants argued in part that a number of the medical providers that the Claimant had seen felt that the Claimant had reached maximum medical improvement, and was capable of returning to truck driving.  Based on these opinions, the defense position was that they owed a modest amount of permanent partial disability benefits.

As a fallback position the Defendants argued that the Claimant had voluntarily terminated his employment on January 14, 2015.  The voluntary quit was significant because the defense argued that under Iowa law when a Claimant declines suitable work, he cannot receive temporary benefits.

The Deputy Commissioner presiding at trial found that since both the Claimant’s expert and the defense expert believed that the Claimant could not return to work as a truck driver that the Claimant had not declined suitable work, and therefore was not barred from receiving temporary benefits.

Additionally, the Deputy Commissioner agreed with the opinion of the Claimant’s expert that he was not yet at maximum medical improvement, and therefore was entitled to a running award of healing period benefits.

Therefore, the Defendants were ordered to pay weekly benefits going back to the time the Claimant had quit his job on January 14, 2015; and continuing into the future until the Claimant reached maximum medical improvement.  When the Claimant reached maximum medical improvement, then his entitlement to permanent partial disability benefits would need to be assessed.

Please be sure to contact our office if you have any questions about running awards or other Iowa work comp issues.