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.
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Candace H. Seaman, Deceased, By Paul J. Seaman, Her Husband, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Candace H. Seaman, v. Burgess Health Center and Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-1385
Claimant, Candace Seaman, was employed by Burgess Health Center as a mental health therapist/social worker. On January 25, 2010, Claimant was injured in a multiple vehicle car accident during the drive from her home in Sioux City to her workplace in Onawa. She died as a result of injuries sustained during the accident. Her spouse, individually and on behalf of her estate, sought workers’ compensation burial expense and death benefits. The agency found Claimant’s death did not arise out of and in the course of her employment and denied the claim. The district court affirmed the agency’s decision.
Under the going-and-coming rule, “absent special circumstances, injuries occurring off the employer’s premises while the employee is on the way to or from work are not compensable.”Quaker Oats Co. v. Ciha, 552 N.W.2d 143, 150 (Iowa 1996). There are several exceptions to the going-and-coming rule that Claimant contends apply here. The claimant first contends Claimant was performing a special errand for Burgess at the time of her car accident. The claimant also contends the dual purpose exception applies to Claimant’s accident. The claimant argues the special errand or dual purpose of Claimant’s travel to work on the morning of her accident was the need to deliver her completed patient reports to Burgess. In support of the contention, the claimant argues the reports were time-sensitive and Claimant would be subject to discipline if she failed to deliver the reports.
The Court of Appeals rejects this contention, noting there is no evidence in the record to support it. The agency found “there [was] no factual basis in this record to find that claimant was on a special errand at the time of her accident and death on Interstate 29 while driving from her home to her place of employment.” The agency found there was not a dual purpose for Claimant’s travel. The agency found the reports were not due that day. The evidence showed Claimant would not have suffered any adverse consequences if she failed to deliver the reports to her employer that day. The claimant admits the employer did not require Claimant to report to work that day. The Court of Appeals thus finds the agency’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and its conclusions are not irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable.
The claimant also contends a third exception to the going and coming rule is applicable here: the second business situs exception. The exception recognizes that some travel to and from an employee’s home to the workplace may arise in the course of employment where the employee’s home serves a secondary office.
The Court of Appeals rejects this contention as well. Claimant did some work at home in the evenings to complete her reports. Her employer did have a telephonic dictation system, which would allow Claimant to dictate her notes from anywhere, including her office at Burgess or at her home. The record is clear, however, that Claimant’s home was not a dedicated office space or secondary office space. Claimant never saw clients at her home. Further, Burgess never specifically directed her to work from home. The employer did not expect her to work from home and did not provide compensation for her work at home. The employer did not pay mileage or other expenses associated with Claimant’s commute. Burgess did not provide her with any equipment for her home. The agency concluded: “Catching up on occasional work at home or completing tasks at home that could be completed at the employer’s premises is an insufficient basis to find that claimant had dual employment premises.” The Court of appeals thus finds the agency’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and its conclusions are not irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable. The District Court judgement is affirmed.
Charles C. Mullen and Julie L. Mullen, Administrators of the Brandon Mullen Estate, v. Steven Grettenberg, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-1699
Claimant, Brandon Mullen, was an employee of Steven Grettenberg, the sole proprietor of Grettenberg Farms, Ltd. Claimant was emptying a grain bin when he became trapped inside and suffocated. Grettenberg was working in the vicinity of the accident.
Charles and Julie Mullen, administrators of Claimant’s estate, sued Grettenberg for damages, alleging he engaged in grossly negligent conduct under Iowa Code section 85.20(2) as Claimant’s “supervisor” and “co-employee.” Grettenberg moved for summary judgment. He argued he was Claimant’s employer rather than his co-employee and, accordingly, the estate’s exclusive means of redress was under the workers’ compensation statute. The district court agreed with Grettenberg. The court stated:
"In this case, the Defendant is a sole proprietor who also worked alongside his employees. As yet, there is no Iowa authority which states that a sole proprietor who works alongside his employees should be deemed a co-employee for purposes of Iowa Code section 85.20."
The court also rejected an equal protection argument raised by the estate.
On appeal, the estate reiterates that Grettenberg should have been deemed a co-employee under section 85.20(2) and again raises an equal protection challenge to the court’s interpretation of the statute.
The Court of Appeals first points out that if a court “finds that a defendant is the plaintiff’s employer, then the court has no subject matter jurisdiction over a section 85.20 gross negligence suit against that defendant.”Henrich v. Lorenz, 448 N.W.2d 327, 331 (Iowa 1989). The estate admitted Grettenberg was Claimant’s employer. Accordingly, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Further, the Court of Appeals notes that case precedent forecloses the possibility of Grettenberg being “deemed” an employee. See Horsman v. Wahl, 551 N.W.2d 619, 621 (Iowa 1996);Crees v. Chiles, 437 N.W.2d 249, 252 (Iowa Ct. App. 1988); Carlson v. Carlson, 346 N.W.2d 525 (Iowa 1984).
The estate also makes an equal protection claim, arguing the differential treatment of employees of sole proprietors and employees of other business entities bears “no reasonable relation to the purposes of the act.” However, the Court of Appeals recognizes that the act itself makes no distinction between these types of employees. As Grettenberg points out, the act differentiates between employers and employees, not between employees. Most employers pay for qualifying compensable injuries through the statutory workers’ compensation system, whereas employees who injure co-employees through gross negligence, pay through common law negligence actions. Claimant was foreclosed from suing Grettenberg if Grettenberg was Claimant’s employer, whatever statutory form the employer assumed. Accordingly, the equal protection clauses were not implicated.
The Court of Appeals thus affirms the District Court’s dismissal of the estate’s petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Premium Transportation Staffing, Inc. and Dallas National Insurance Co., v. Alan Bowers, Court of Appeals of Iowa, File No: 15-0378.
In an arbitration decision, the deputy commissioner found Claimant, Alan Bowers, carried his burden of proving he sustained a permanent injury to his low back as a result of a work injury in 2011 and that he was permanently and totally disabled. In its decision, the deputy specifically gave greater weight to the opinions of Dr. Sedlacek, a treating physician, and Dr. Mathew, an examining physician. The deputy concluded “the greater weight of the medical evidence indicates claimant’s work injury of October 17, 2011, caused claimant’s current low back and coccyx pain, and resulted in permanent impairment.” Again, giving greater weight to the opinions of Drs. Sedlacek and Mathew, the deputy concluded the “[c]laimant’s credible testimony also clearly demonstrates ongoing permanent disability.”
The deputy noted that Claimant’s testimony “that he spent only $12.00 per day for food and expenses and kept the remainder of the $52.00 per diem as compensation is uncontroverted in the record.” The deputy concluded Claimant showed by a preponderance of the evidence that only a portion of his per diem was reimbursement for expenses, and that the appellants did not carry their burden of proof to show otherwise. Finding that $12.00 of Claimant’s per diem payment was an expense allowance under Iowa Code section 85.61(3), the deputy commissioner included the remaining $40.00 of the per diem payment in calculating the weekly rate. On intra-agency appeal, the commissioner adopted and affirmed the arbitration decision without additional comment.
The appellants filed a petition for judicial review. They asserted the commissioner’s findings with respect to whether or not Claimant sustained a permanent injury to his low back, whether Claimant was permanently and totally disabled, and whether the per diem payment should have been included in Claimant’s weekly benefit rate were not supported by substantial evidence in the record and involved an application of law to fact that was irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable. The district court affirmed the commissioner’s decision.
Appellants now appeal. On appeal, they raise the same arguments to the Court of Appeals as proffered to the district court.
The Court of Appeals first notes that its review of final agency action is “severely circumscribed,” and it is obliged to accept the factual determinations made by the agency. The Court thus affirms the decision of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, stating:
"We have carefully reviewed the record, the briefs of the parties, and the district court’s thorough and well-reasoned ruling. The district court’s ruling identifies and considers all the issues presented. In applying the above standard-of-review precepts, and in giving the due deference we are statutorily obligated to afford the commissioner’s findings of fact, we approve of the reasons and conclusions in the district court’s ruling. Further discussion of the issues would be of no value. See Iowa Ct. R. 21.26(1)(b), (d), and (e)."
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