Under Iowa law two of the factors that the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner take into account in assessing the extent of work injuries are the motivation of the injured claimant to return to work and the credibility of the injured worker. The recent September 24, 2018 work comp appeal decision of Marshall v. Menard, Inc. and Praetorian Ins. Co. provides a good example of how poor motivation to return to work and credibility problems can limit the amount of damages awarded to an injured worker.
In the Marshall case the claimant was 55 years old at the time of hearing. She had training in hair design and as a medical assistant. Her work history included working on the family farm; working in the Players Club area of a casino; working in hospitals and dental offices; working at a 911 center; and working as a Juvenile Correctional Officer at a Juvenile Detention Center.
Prior to the injury the claimant was in very good physical condition.
The claimant was shutting off a light at work in March of 2013 when she received an electrical charge that spread throughout her entire body. Other co-workers saw the electrocution and the sparks from the light socket, and a small burn mark on the claimant’s finger.
The claimant developed left sided chest, arm and jaw discomfort, severe fatigue, and occasional episodes of heart palpations. The biggest problem was the Claimant developed weakness in her legs and she would occasionally fall. The Claimant eventually left her job.
The claimant went through a long process of medical assessment and treatment. Most of the physicians that claimant saw could not find an objective explanation for her problems. However, in October of 2013 the claimant was seen by a neurologist who concluded that claimant’s symptoms were a residual deficit from the electrocution injury and that her unpredictable falls were due to episodic left-sided dysfunction from the electrocution. The neurologist issued work restrictions to avoid ladders, avoid heavy or dangerous machinery, and avoid lifting anything that could result in injury if she were to fall while carrying it.
The Deputy Commissioner that presided over the trial found that the claimant had sustained 85% industrial disability and awarded the claimant 425 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.
The claimant and the defense both appealed. The claimant argued that she was entitled to an award of permanent total disability. The defense argued the Claimant had not really suffered a permanent injury and no benefits should be awarded.
In the Commissioner’s Appeal Decision he noted that the claimant had three doctors supporting her position and four doctors who felt that she had not sustained any permanent impairment.
The Commissioner found that the neurologist who felt she did have deficits from the electrocution and gave her permanent work restrictions was the most persuasive expert, and found that the claimant had suffered permanent injury from the electrocution.
However, the Commissioner found that while the claimant had functional limitations, she was capable of returning to some of her past sedentary jobs such as working at a casino or a call center. The Commissioner noted that the claimant had not attempted to put any of her transferrable skills to use and had never looked for any jobs. Therefore, the Commissioner concluded that the claimant was not motivated to return to work.
The Commissioner also found that the claimant was not completely credible or truthful. The Commissioner pointed out that the claimant’s reports about her problems to different physicians varied widely.
Therefore, the Commissioner reduced the award to the claimant from 425 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits to 250 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits.
The Commissioner’s reduction of the claimant’s award based on concerns about her motivation and credibility is very consistent with my experience. Injured workers who try to get back to work and who are found to be truthful receive better settlements and awards in the Iowa work comp system.