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.
Menard, Inc. and Zurich Ins. Co. v. Kenneth Fenton, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-1924
Claimant, Kenneth Fenton, sustained a back injury in November 2010 while working as an operator on an assembly line at Menard, Inc. A deputy commissioner determined Fenton experienced “a 50 percent loss of earning capacity or industrial disability.” The deputy awarded him permanent partial disability benefits. The commissioner affirmed the arbitration decision and adopted it in full.
Menard, Inc. and its insurance carrier, Zurich American Insurance Company (“Menard”), sought judicial review of the agency decision. The district court affirmed. On appeal, Menard contends the fifty percent industrial disability determination is not supported by substantial evidence and is an irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable application of law to fact. Menard specifically asserts “[t]he commissioner failed to compare the condition of the Claimant’s low back before the work injury with the condition of his low back after having undergone surgery” or his earning capacity before and after the injury.
The Court of Appeals affirms the commissioner’s workers’ compensation decision in favor of Fenton. Having found substantial evidentiary support for the commissioner’s key determinations, the Court concludes the commissioner’s application of law to fact was not irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable.
Specifically, the Court noted that the deputy commissioner summarized Fenton’s medical history, including his back problems, and found “no evidence [Fenton] had any permanent impairment prior to this 2010 injury.” The deputy also enumerated Fenton’s earnings in the year of his injury and in ensuing years. The deputy found Fenton had been moved to a “floater” job, which “was not a permanent position at the time of the hearing.” These findings are supported by substantial evidence.
Menard, Inc. and Praetorian Insurance Company v. Dale Simmer, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-2078
Claimant, Dale Simmer, had been employed by Menards since 2003. In his positions at Menards, Simmer was often required to carry goods throughout the store and to customers’ cars in the parking lot. These loads sometimes reached up to three hundred pounds.
In late 2008 and early 2009, Simmer began to experience pain in his feet that spread up into his thighs while working. He was seen by Dr. Riesen to manage the pain through various treatments. He continued to work without restrictions. By April 2010, Simmer’s pain had spread to his lower back, and Dr. Riesen referred Simmer to Dr. Mehbod at the Minnesota Back Institute. He learned for the first time that he had scoliosis. Simmer again returned to his position at Menards without restrictions.
By early 2012, Simmer’s pain had returned and intensified. On February 9, 2012, Dr. Mehbod explained that Simmer’s employment may have had a causal connection to Simmer’s worsening condition. Dr. Mehbod advised Simmer to undergo surgery, which was performed on March 7, 2012.
Simmer went to work on June 4 without restrictions, but after one hour he experienced intense pain and was unable to continue working. June 4 was Simmer’s last day working at Menards. He filed a petition for workers’ compensation benefits on June 27, 2012.
A hearing on the petition took place on May 15, 2013. The parties presented as evidence several doctors’ opinions as to the cause of Simmer’s injuries and whether the injury was work-related. Dr. Mehbod wrote, “[W]orking 12 or more hours per day in the paint department at Menards standing and walking on concrete with heavy lifting aggravated, accelerated or [sped] up the degenerative process in [Simmer’s] back.” Dr. Mendoza wrote, “Mr. Simmer’s condition of degenerative scoliosis is an osteoarthritic condition caused by wear and tear and occurs regardless of the type of occupation.” Simmer’s counsel retained Dr. Miller, who wrote, “[Simmer’s] work was a significant aggravating factor for the pre-existing condition of lumbar scoliosis with degenerative change making the back pain progressive symptomatic.” Menards’s counsel retained Dr. Boarini, who wrote, “There is no indication that work was a specific aggravating factor for the progress of his degenerative disease.” Dr. Mooney wrote, “there is no direct evidence that his work . . . at Menards has been a direct contributor or a material aggravator of this idiopathic medical condition.”
The deputy commissioner who heard the case determined Simmer had provided Menards with the requisite notice within ninety days of reasonably recognizing the serious and compensable character of his injury. The deputy further found Simmer’s injury was a “cumulative injury arising out of and in the course of his employment,” which entitled Simmer to benefits. Menards appealed to the workers’ compensation commissioner, who affirmed the deputy’s order. Menards then filed for judicial review, and the district court affirmed the commissioner. Menards now appeals.
First, Menards asserts there is not substantial evidence to support the commissioner’s finding that Simmer provided timely notice of the injury to his employer. The Court of Appeals holds that the record contains substantial evidence that supports the agency’s determination: Simmer, acting as a reasonable person and including all knowledge that could imputed to him, discovered the seriousness of his injury on June 4, 2012. He therefore gave timely notice of the injury to his employer, and his claim is not barred by Iowa Code section 85.23. The Court noted that the medical advice Simmer received from Dr. Mehbod indicated Simmer would have a lengthy recovery period but did not foreclose him from eventually returning to his job in a comparable capacity. A reasonable person in receipt of such advice from a medical specialist would believe he could make a substantial recovery from his injury and surgery.
Second, Menards claims there is not substantial evidence to support the commissioner’s finding that Simmer’s injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. The Court of Appeals finds that Dr. Mehbod’s and Dr. Miller’s expert opinions constitute substantial evidence supporting the agency’s causation determination. It noted that it did not need to consider whether the expert opinions of the other doctors contradict those of Dr. Mehbod and Dr. Miller or offer alternative theoretical causes.
Therefore, the Court of Appeals affirms the district court opinion and finds that substantial evidence in the record supports the agency’s findings.
Monte M. Thompson v. ATI Products, Inc., Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-1765
Claimant, Monte Thompson, was employed by Aventure Staffing and Professional Services, LLC. Aventure is a labor broker that assigns its employees to perform work on a temporary basis for its customers. On July 29, 2010, Thompson was seriously injured on his first day of work at A & I Products, the corporate predecessor of ATI Products. Thompson had been placed at ATI’s facility by Aventure.
Thompson filed a claim for and received workers’ compensation benefits through Aventure. He filed this suit against ATI for negligence arising out of the workplace injury. ATI moved for summary judgment on the grounds it was Thompson’s “special employer” as a matter of law and Thompson’s negligence claim was thus barred by the exclusive remedy provision in the workers’ compensation code. The district court granted ATI’s motion for summary judgment. Thompson timely filed this appeal.
The limited issue before the court is whether the district court erred in concluding the summary judgment record established ATI and Thompson had an employer-employee relationship as a matter of law.
Iowa’s workers’ compensation scheme provides “the exclusive and only rights and remedies of the employee” arising out of a work-related injury “against the employee’s employer.” Iowa Code § 85.20. An employee is precluded from maintaining “any other action other than workers’ compensation against the employer . . . for injury arising while the employee is acting in the course of his employment.”Jones v. Sheller-Globe Corp., 487 N.W.2d 88, 90 (Iowa Ct. App. 1992).
“[T]he threshold determination in deciding whether a worker falls into the workers’ compensation scheme is whether the worker entered into a contract of hire, express or implied.”Parson v. Procter & Gamble Mfg. Co., 514 N.W.2d 891, 893 (Iowa 1994). “The question of whether a contract of hire exists is ordinarily one of fact,” and “in cases involving the question of whether an employee of a general employer became the employee of a special employer, the presumption is that the general employer continues as the sole employer.”Id. at 893-94.
Based on the controlling Parson decision, the Court of Appeals concludes that a reasonable juror could find Thompson was the exclusive employee of Aventure and not a special employee of ATI, and therefore, the district court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
The Court looked at the legal relationship between the labor broker and its customer. The language in the contract between Aventure and ATI supports an inference that Thompson remained exclusively an Aventure employee even while performing work at ATI’s facility. The division of responsibility between Aventure and ATI with respect to the employee’s compensation and benefits also supports an inference that Thompson was exclusively an employee of Aventure. The Court also considered the documents between the employee and the labor broker, which would bear on the employee’s intent. Thompson signed a release of workers’ compensation claims with Aventure. When viewed in the light most favorable to Thompson, the documents defining the relationship between Aventure, ATI, and Thompson all support an inference that Thompson was exclusively an employee of Aventure and not ATI.
Additionally, the Court considered Thompson’s testimony and his understanding of his relationship with Aventure and ATI. When Thompson was assigned to work at ATI, he “considered [himself] to be employed by Aventure not [ATI], where [he] was merely a temporary worker.”
ATI argues the “overwhelming majority of jurisdictions have determined customers of labor brokers/temporary employers are protected by the state’s workers’ compensation act from common law tort liability” and cites more than thirty decisions from jurisdictions around the country as support for that argument. However, the Court of Appeals notes that this weight of persuasive authority does not allow it to disregard controlling authority. TheParson decision provides that the question presented typically is one of fact. On the summary judgment record in this case, in light ofParson, the Court concludes reasonable minds could differ on the question whether Thompson and ATI both had the intent to enter into an employment relationship.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reverses the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remands this case for further proceedings.
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