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.
AARP and Arch Insurance Co. v. Donald Whitacre, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 3-082 / 12-1519
The claimant worked part time as a janitor for the AARP. One day while on coffee break with his supervisor, Pat Faught, the Claimant began to choke. He stood up to get a drink of water, stumbled, and hit the corner of Faught’s desk and the corner of the office wall. He landed head first on the floor. The Claimant sustained injuries to the head and face; and had to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain.
The Claimant petitioned for workers’ compensation benefits and following arbitration hearing, it was concluded his injury arose out of his employment and he was awarded medical expenses and weekly benefits. On appeal to the district court, the Court determined that the agency had erred in finding the injury arose out of the Claimant’s employment with AARP.
On appeal the Court stated that the arising out of test requires proof that a causal connection exists between the conditions of the employment and the injury. The Court went on saying “generally injuries resulting from risks personal to the claimant are not compensable. However, where the employment contributes to the risk or aggravates the injury an exception may arise.
The Court recognized that the parties agreed the Claimant’s fall was caused by a personal condition. However the Claimant contended the condition’s of Claimant’s employment aggravated the injury sustained by the Claimant. It had been concluded by the agency that the design and construction of the office, namely that it was small, had hard concrete walls and floor, significantly contributed to the Claimant’s injury.
The Court’s analysis focused on the distinction between a dangerous employment condition that increases the risk of injury and an employment condition that aggravates the effects of an idiopathic fall. The Court noted that the distinction was a fine one. The Court indicated that the key is that, with idiopathic falls, which “begin with an origin which is admittedly personal,” there must be “some affirmative employment contribution to offset the prima facie showing of personal origin.”
The Court then applied this standard to the facts of the case and indicated that as the deputy concluded the fall took place in a small office, and the Claimant hit the corner of the desk, then the wall and then the floor, that the office conditions did aggravate the effects of the Claimant’s idiopathic fall. Thus, the decision of the Agency was affirmed.
Estate of John Herman v. Overhead Door Company of Des Moines, Inc. and Columbia Insurance Group, Court of Appeals of Iowa No. 3-110 / 12-0892
The Claimant passed away during the appeal of his workers’ compensation claim and his estate was substituted in his place. The Claimant worked for the Defendant employer from August 1994 until an alleged work injury in January of 2009.
The claimant spent the majority of his time in the shop area at work, which he testified was unheated at the time of his injury and the heaters had been broken for a couple of years. He testified that he had told his bosses about the heaters not working. Due to the temperature of the shop, the Claimant wore long underwear, jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, work coat, thermal socks, boots and gloves.
The Claimant’s job duties included throwing away scrap material and emptying trash cans, requiring him to walk outside to the dumpster multiple times a day. The Claimant first noticed his injury on January 21, 2009. On that day, he estimated the temperature in the warehouse where he was working to be in the teens. The ground outside was also covered with five inches of previous snow accumulation. Defendant employer’s owner testified that the snow had been cleared where the Claimant was required to walk and that it was not his job to clear snow.
After work on January 21, 2009, the Claimant noticed blisters on his right foot and toes. The next day at work, he noticed his foot was wet and discovered that his blisters had broken open. The low temperature that day was twenty degrees and the high was forty seven. The Claimant further testified that he did not engage in any outdoor activities outside of work from January 21st to the 23rd.
When the Claimant arrived to work on the 23rd, he showed his foot to his supervisor, who sent the Claimant to the emergency room. It was determined that the Claimant had frostbite and a secondary infection on his right foot. The Claimant was treated by Dr. Lester Yen, who attempted to repair the damage to the Claimant’s foot with a skin graft on March 6, 2009. A second attempt at a graft was attempted in May 2009.
The Claimant’s right big toe eventually become infected and he was referred to a bone specialist. He was eventually seen by Dr. Colin Pehde who performed a partial amputation of the Claimant’s right great toe on July 22, 2009. As a result of the amputation, the Claimant developed ulcerations on his second and third toes. A tenotmy was performed to address the Claimant’s persistent pain. On January 11, 2010, it was noticed that the Claimant had an infection in the area where the tenotomy was performed, and he was hospitalized until February 2, 2010.
The Claimant sought workers’ compensation benefits for his right foot injury. Both treating physicians offered opinions that the Claimant’s injury was caused or aggravated by work. At the arbitration hearing, it was determined that the Claimant had not met his burden of proof that the injury was related to his work. The decision was affirmed by both the commissioner and the district court.
The Court of Appeals took up the case and noted that issues of medical causation are questions of fact which will only be reversed if not supported by substantial evidence. The Court went on to state that medical causation is essentially within the domain of expert testimony. Additionally, if the Commissioner rejects uncontroverted expert testimony, he must state why he has done so with sufficient specificity.
The Court noted that this case was an instance where uncontroverted expert medical opinions in support of causation were presented. The Court noted that the commissioner made no determinations of credibility but merely adopted the findings of the deputy, who in the eyes of the Court, “inexplicably stated the doctors were not helpful in determining whether the frostbite occurred at work”. The Court also found that the Claimant’s medical histories supplied on his alleged day of injury supported a finding of causation. After a review of the totality of the record, the Court determined that the commissioner’s outright rejection of the doctors’ uncontroverted medical opinions is not supported by substantial evidence.
The Court then turned its attention to whether the injury arose out of and in the course of the Claimant’s employment. The Court noted that “the injury must not have coincidentally occurred while at work, but must in some way be caused by or related to the working environment or the conditions of [the] employment.”
The Court found that the medical record and climatological evidence demonstrated that the Claimant’s “injury coincided as to time, place, and circumstances, and occurred within the period of the employment, while Herman was fulfilling work duties or engaged in something incidental thereto, thereby satisfying the “in the course of” element.” As such, the Court found that the commissioner’s finding that the Claimant’s injury did not arise out of or in the course of employment was based upon an irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable application of law to fact and must be reversed.
The Court reversed the district court’s decision upholding the agency denial of workers’ compensation benefits to the Claimant and remanded to the district court for remand to the commissioner for a determination of benefits.
Call Mark Bosscher or Lee Hook with any questions @ 515-243-2100. We’d be happy to help, whether it be a quick or a complex issue!