NWCDN Members regularly post articles and summary judgements in workers’ compensations law in your state.
Select a state from the dropdown menu below to scroll through the state specific archives for updates and opinions on various workers’ compensation laws in your state.
Contact information for NWCDN members is also located on the state specific links in the event you have additional questions or your company is seeking a workers’ compensation lawyer in your state.
Polaris Industries, Inc. v. Ken E. Sharar, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-1648
Claimant, Ken Sharar, has been employed by Polaris since 2003. His work at Polaris primarily involved physical labor. On November 3, 2009, he fell while performing his work duties and sustained serious injuries to his right shoulder. He underwent two surgeries and extensive physical therapy. He returned to work on light duty but struggled with clerical tasks that required the use of a computer. He eventually settled into a position operating an air lift. He was able to perform these work tasks largely unassisted.
Claimant achieved maximum medical improvement (MMI) on February 21, 2011. The doctor who determined he had reached MMI opined Claimant suffered “a total impairment rating of 5% of the right upper extremity due to his decreased range of motion.” A second doctor performed an independent medical evaluation of Claimant. He calculated a fifteen percent permanent impairment of the extremity—equivalent to a nine percent whole-person impairment—and estimated Claimant could lift thirty-five pounds using both hands. A vocational consultant wrote in an evaluation of Claimant, “It is reasonably likely that he has suffered a reduction in employability of 61% and a reduction in labor market access of approximately 70%. This is reasonably expected to result in a loss in earning capacity estimated at approximately 65%.”
Claimant filed for permanent partial disability benefits. A deputy commissioner at the agency conducted a hearing. He found Claimant to have sustained a forty percent loss of earning capacity and awarded him 200 weeks of industrial disability benefits. Polaris appealed the decision of the deputy commissioner, and the commissioner affirmed the award. Polaris petitioned the district court for judicial review, and the court affirmed. Polaris now appeals from the district court’s affirmance. Polaris does not contest that Claimant is entitled to some amount of industrial disability benefits, but it contends the award of forty percent is excessive and not supported by substantial evidence.
On review of the record and consideration of the applicable factors, the Court of Appeals finds substantial evidence to support the agency’s determination. Claimant’s functional impairment prevents him from engaging in heavy physical labor, and most of his prior work experience and qualifications relate to physical labor. At the time of the hearing, Claimant was forty-eight years old and high-school educated. The record shows he experienced difficulties adapting to retraining and learning new skills. Although Claimant’s actual earnings at the time of the hearing were higher than at the time of the injury, the report of the vocational consultant indicates that Claimant’s earning capacity in the general labor market had decreased.
Archer Daniels Midland, Inc. v. Robert Warren, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-0956
Claimant, Robert Warren, was born in 1949. He completed the ninth grade, later obtained his G.E.D, and also attended Kirkwood Community College. In 1969, Claimant suffered a severe, traumatic right-hip injury after falling twenty-eight feet from a roof that collapsed. He underwent a Jewett hip nailing procedure involving a three and one-half inch nail, a four inch plate, and metallic screws. Claimant worked as a welder from 1974 until 1986 when that employer’s plant closed. In 1976, at his doctor’s recommendation, Claimant had the Jewett nail removed. Claimant worked for a different employer’s manufacturing business from 1987 to 2000. He then drove a semi-truck for about six months.
On March 19, 2001, Claimant began working for Archer Daniels Midland, Inc. (ADM). His health was “excellent” when he started and he was under no restrictions. As a utility worker at ADM, Claimant was responsible for moving railcars and directing trucks into proper filling position. Claimant’s right hip began to bother him when the rail car staging area was expanded, which caused him to walk more. On January 28, 2009, Claimant went to his family doctor, Dr. Yang Ahn, complaining of stiffness and pain. Dr. Ahn referred him to Dr. Michael Brooks for evaluation on July 31, 2009. Dr. Brooks assessed “[p]olyarthritis with a predominance of osteoarthritis.”
On September 22, 2010, Claimant saw Dr. Sandeep Munjal, an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Munjal noted, “His work does require significant lifting of loads and more than twelve hundred steps a day of rough walking.” X-rays demonstrated “advanced degenerative changes in the right hip with hallmarks of previous surgery and a valgus alignment of the hip.” Claimant underwent a right total hip replacement on February 22, 2011. Claimant returned to ADM, but was told his work restrictions could not be accommodated. Consequently, Claimant’s last date of employment with ADM was February 18, 2011.
On April 5, 2011, Claimant filed a petition seeking workers’ compensation benefits for a cumulative injury. ADM sent Claimant for an independent medical examination (IME) with Dr. William Boulden on June 15, 2011. In his report, Dr. Boulden opined “Warren’s work activities with Archer Daniels Midland…did not accelerate or cause the osteoarthritis of his hip, for which he had the hip replacement.” On March 13, 2012, Claimant was seen by Dr. Ray Miller for another IME. Dr. Miller wrote: “It is my opinion from evaluating Mr. Warren, his medical records, and his job requirements, that his work activity during his ten years at Archer Daniels Midland were significant physical activities that contributed to the progression of osteoarthritis resulting in the need for a total hip replacement.” At a June 11, 2012 deposition, Dr. Munjal testified that Claimant’s work activities were not a cause of Claimant’s osteoarthritis.
Following an arbitration hearing, the deputy commissioner determined, “The record evidence considered as a whole does not support a finding that claimant’s right hip osteoarthritis and his need for a right hip replacement were rational consequences of his work activities for ADM.” Consequently, the deputy denied Claimant’s workers’ compensation benefits. Claimant appealed to the commissioner.
The commissioner reversed the deputy’s arbitration ruling. The commissioner reviewed the records of Drs. Munjal, Boulden, and Miller and determined Claimant “met his burden to prove that his right hip replacement and disability arose out of and in the course of his employment duties with [ADM].” Further, the commissioner found Claimant had sustained a twenty-percent impairment to the whole person. The commissioner concluded Claimant “sustained a right hip injury through a cumulative process as an aggravation of claimant’s preexisting hip condition.” The commissioner also concluded Claimant had “sustained an injury which permanently disables him from performing work within his experience, training, education, and physical capacities,” entitling him an award of permanent total disability benefits commencing on February 19, 2011.
ADM filed a petition for judicial review in the district court. The district court found substantial evidence supported the commissioner’s finding of causation. ADM Appeals.
Because the commissioner weighed the expert opinion evidence thoroughly and documented its finding of causation, and the district court accepted the finding of the commissioner as supported by substantial evidence in the record, the Court of Appeals affirms the causation finding. Additionally, the Court of Appeals does not find the commissioner’s determination as to industrial disability was irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable. The Court of Appeals therefore affirms the district court’s decision affirming the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s award of permanent total disability benefits to Claimant.
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