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.
Tyson Foods, Inc., v. Yawa Tameklo, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 15-0222
Claimant, Yawa Tameklo, sustained a work-related injury to her right shoulder while trimming dirty meat off cow carcasses as they proceeded down an assembly line at Tyson Foods, Inc. After conservative treatment failed to alleviate her pain, Claimant underwent surgery, known as “subacromial decompressive acromioplasty with bursectomy.” Claimant returned to full-duty work eight weeks after the surgery. The pain in Claimant’s right shoulder did not abate. Eventually, a physician diagnosed her with “avascular necrosis,” described in part as a narrowing of the joint space with particulate debris.
Claimant petitioned for workers’ compensation benefits. Tyson countered that the necrosis was not work-related. Following an arbitration hearing, a deputy workers’ compensation commissioner found “that the avascular necrosis condition [was] related to [Claimant’s] work injury.” The deputy awarded Claimant healing period benefits. On intra-agency appeal, the commissioner upheld the award, as well as the deputy’s findings, applications of law to fact, and conclusions of law. A subsequent application for rehearing was denied. Tyson sought judicial review. The district court reversed the agency decision, finding insubstantial evidence to support the commissioner’s determination of a causal connection between the injury and Claimant’s employment. Claimant appealed.
On appeal, the Court notes that the commissioner cited three pieces of evidence in finding a causal connection between Claimant’s injury and employment: (1) an opinion from the physician who performed the prior surgery, (2) an opinion from a second physician, and (3) medical literature proffered by a physician who conducted an independent medical examination. Tyson argues the first two physicians did not conclusively find a causal connection and the findings in the article presented by the third physician were based on a different surgery than Claimant underwent, involving patients with different underlying medical issues. The Court of Appeals agrees with Tyson’s contentions, but notes their agreement does not mandate reversal.
Neither of the first two physicians conclusively ruled out a causal connection with Claimant’s employment. Further, the independent medical evaluation was based on more than the journal article alone. After reviewing and summarizing the pertinent medical records, that expert found a cumulative aggravation of Claimant’s original work-related shoulder injury when she returned to full-duty work. Setting aside the journal article, these statements amount to substantial evidence in support of the agency’s finding of a causal connection.
The Court of Appeals concludes the agency’s finding of a causal connection between Claimant’s avascular necrosis and her employment was supported by substantial evidence. To the extent the determination involves application of law to fact, the Court concludes it is not irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable.
Eaton Corporation and Old Republic Insurance Co., v. Don Archer, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 15-0255
Claimant, Don Archer, filed a workers’ compensation petition alleging he sustained a work-related injury while employed at Eaton, where he engaged in repetitive work as a machine operator on a factory assembly line building transmissions. On the day of his alleged injury, March 22, 2012, Claimant began to experience pain in his hands, and as a result, Claimant reported to Eaton that he was unable to work. He also missed his next two work shifts due to his symptoms. Claimant was terminated from his employment on April 2, 2012, due to excessive absenteeism and has been unable to obtain new employment. Dr. Donald Bumgarner, Claimant’s physician, determined Claimant had “[p]robable carpal tunnel syndrome left side and possible carpal tunnel syndrome right side.” An EMG further indicated he had carpal tunnel syndrome on his left side. Dr. Michael Morrison also diagnosed him with mild bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and recommended surgery.
Each party requested an independent medical examination (IME). Claimant’s IME was conducted by Dr. Caliste Hsu. Dr. Hsu diagnosed Claimant with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome caused by working at Eaton. Dr. Hsu further determined Claimant was not capable of performing the work he had been doing at the time of the injury. Eaton obtained an IME from Dr. D.M. Gammel, who also diagnosed Claimant with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome but disagreed with Dr. Hsu’s opinion on causation.
Claimant filed a petition for workers’ compensation benefits. Following an arbitration hearing, a deputy workers’ compensation commissioner found Claimant sustained a work-related injury on March 22, 2012, and was entitled to a running award of healing period benefits beginning April 3, 2012. The workers’ compensation commissioner affirmed and adopted the deputy’s decision on appeal. Eaton sought judicial review of the causation finding and award of healing period benefits, which the district court affirmed. On appeal, Eaton only challenges the award of a running healing period benefit, claiming substantial evidence does not support the agency’s finding.
The Court of Appeals holds substantial evidence supports the finding Claimant is unable to return to similar employment. The Court notes that Claimant testified his injury caused pain so intense he was unable to work, leading to his eventual termination. After his termination, Claimant’s symptoms failed to improve. Dr. Hsu recommended Claimant be surgically treated to improve “his symptoms of pain, tingling, and numbness in his hand,” but Claimant has been unable to pursue this treatment after losing health insurance following his termination. Most significantly, Dr. Hsu opined, “I do not believe [Claimant] is medically and physically capable of performing the work that he was doing at the time of his injury.” The Court notes that, although Eaton cites evidence that may support a finding that Claimant was capable of returning to substantially similar employment, the Court’s task is not to determine whether substantial evidence supports different findings but rather the findings actually made.
The Court of Appeals also holds that substantial evidence supports the finding the healing period began when Claimant was terminated from his employment with Eaton. In determining the date of injury, the Court uses the date on which the disability manifests, or in other words, “‘the date on which both the fact of the injury and the causal relationship of the injury to the claimant’s employment would have become plainly apparent to a reasonable person.’” Here, Claimant had only been told he had “probable” carpal tunnel syndrome on his left side and “possible” carpal tunnel syndrome on his right side before he was terminated. Although Dr. Bumgarner suggested Claimant try wearing a neutral wrist splint to reduce his pain, he did not receive any work restrictions. It was a short period of time after Claimant’s symptoms began that he was terminated, and it was not until after Claimant was terminated that he was given an EMG and diagnosed by three doctors as having carpal tunnel syndrome. The first opinion on causation was given in August 2012, months after Claimant’s termination. Therefore, Claimant would not have been aware of the connection between his injury and his work, or the adverse impact his injury would have on his employment, until after he was terminated.
Because the Court of Appeals agrees with the district court that the evidence here supports an award of healing period benefits beginning on April 2, 2015, it affirms.
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