This post will discuss the combination of three Iowa work comp legal doctrines.
First, under Iowa workers’ compensation law there is a special type of claim called a Second Injury Fund claim that allows a worker to receive industrial disability benefits for scheduled injuries. The requirements for a Second Injury Fund claim are as follows:
- The worker has to have a prior injury to a hand, arm, foot, leg, or eye. This first injury can be from a work injury, a sports injury, a motor vehicle accident or from any source.
- The worker then needs to suffer a work injury to a different body part in the grouping of a hand, arm, foot, leg, or eye.
The claims are brought against the Second Injury Fund which is defended by the Iowa Attorney General’s office. Second Injury Fund claims are valued by figuring out the total industrial disability from the scheduled injuries, and then giving the Second Injury Fund a credit for the scheduled value of all of the involved body parts. See here for a longer explanation of how Second Injury Fund claims work.
Second, Iowa workers’ compensation law also has a procedure where a worker can petition for additional benefits after an open file settlement or a trial award. The procedure for additional benefits is called a review-reopening action. For a review-reopening case the injured worker has to show either:
- A deterioration of their physical condition resulting in an increased loss of function or increased restrictions; or
- A negative change in their economic circumstances related to the work injury.
Third, Iowa has permanent total disability benefits for workers with severe injuries. Permanent total disability under Iowa workers’ compensation law does not mean that a worker is necessarily absolutely helpless. A permanent total disability award is appropriate where the injuries to the worker completely disabled the worker from pursuing the jobs that their experience, training, education, intelligence and physical capabilities would otherwise permit them to perform.
The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on June 4, 2018 which dealt with all three of the doctrines discussed above: a Second Injury Fund claim, a review-reopening claim, and a disputed finding of permanent total disability. The Commissioner’s Appeal Decision was in the case of Michael Boles v. Enxco, Inc., Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania and Second Injury Fund of Iowa. Enxco operated wind turbines and the Claimant’s job was to maintain the wind turbines.
The Claimant’s first “qualifying” injury was a left wrist fracture in 2005 that resulted in permanent impairment and physical limitations.
The Claimant suffered right and left knee injuries in 2009 and 2010 while working for Enxco. The Claimant brought a Second Injury Fund claim based on these three injuries. As a result of the Claimant’s knee injuries he was terminated from his job with Enxco in April of 2011.
The Second Injury Fund claim went to trial in June of 2012, and the Claimant was awarded 65% industrial disability.
The condition of the Claimant’s knees continued to deteriorate after the 2012 trial and the doctors gave him higher impairment ratings and more restrictions for each of his knee injuries.
The Claimant also briefly worked at a factory job after the 2012 trial. While working at this factory the Claimant injured his back and had to leave the factory job.
The Claimant shortly thereafter brought a review-reopening action based on a worsening condition of his knees. In the review-reopening action the Claimant argued that as a result of his increasing knee problems he now qualified for a permanent total disability award.
The Second Injury Fund’s defense argument was that it was really the Claimant’s back injury that had caused his increased impairment. The Second Injury Fund’s reasoning was that a back injury cannot be used as part of the Second Injury Fund claim, and therefore the Second Injury Fund should not be responsible for the Claimant’s increased industrial disability.
The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner agreed that the back injury was a serious problem for the Claimant, and not something that could be used to increase an award in a Second Injury Fund claim.
However, the Commissioner also found that the worsening conditions of the Claimant’s knees was sufficient to support an award for permanent total disability. Therefore, the Commissioner raised the award to the Claimant from 65% industrial disability to 100% permanent total disability.
The main teaching points from the Boles case are:
- If you have a preexisting problem with a hand, arm, foot, leg, or eye, and suffer another injury to one of those body parts, you potentially have a valuable Second Injury Fund claim.
- If you have settled a work comp claim or received a work comp award, and your condition worsens, you may be able to bring a claim for additional benefits.
Please be sure to contact our office if you have any questions about Second Injury Fund claims or review-reopening claims.