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.
Legal Update by Attorney Alison Stewart and Law Clerk Morgan Borron
In Tripp v. Scott County Emergency Communication Center, 977 N.W.2d 459 (Iowa 2022), the Iowa Supreme Court addressed whether Iowa law holds emergency workers to a separate, higher standard to be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for trauma-induced mental injuries, than other workers who sustain identical injuries, but work in other roles. In this case, Claimant was diagnosed with PTSD after receiving a disturbing call from a mother who was screaming about the death of an infant. Claimant had worked in that role for approximately 16 years prior, but testified the screams in this call were “beyond ‘normal’ sounds: ‘guttural, awful.’” In the days that followed, Claimant became withdrawn, unable to process emotions, wanting to sleep, and tearful. The employer approved Claimant’s treatment with a licensed mental health counselor and psychologist, both of whom diagnosed Claimant as having suffered from PTSD as the result of the September 30, 2018 call.
Claimant’s treating psychologist testified her PTSD constituted a chronic episodic condition that resulted in a permanent disability. The Deputy Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s petition for workers’ compensation benefits because 911 dispatchers “’routinely’ take calls involving death and traumatic injuries” and that Plaintiff had failed to establish that the call was “unusual” or “unexpected” as required under the court’s prior mental injury cases. The Commissioner affirmed the Deputy’s Arbitration Decision, as did the District Court. Claimant appealed, which was retained by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Psychological injuries meet the definition of personal injuries for purposes of determining workers’ compensation benefit entitlement in Iowa, but employees claiming mental injuries must prove both medical and legal causation. See Brown v. Quik Trip Corp., 641 N.W.2d 725, 727-29 (Iowa 2002). The legal causation requirement could be satisfied where an “unusual strain” led to the mental injury. The Court held that based on the evidence, Plaintiff Tripp’s PTSD arose directly from her handling of the September 30, 2018, 911 call in the course of her work as an emergency dispatcher. The Court held that focusing on an employee’s job to determine an “unexpected strain” placed emergency workers in a disfavored position when compared to other workers. It held there should be no “heightened evidentiary hurdle” for these types of employees. Rather, because Claimant was able to prove her purely mental injury (PTSD) was traceable to a readily identifiable work event (the September 30, 2018, phone call) she had proven legal causation. The likely impact of this case is that this expands the compensability of mental injuries in Iowa.
The Commissioner awarded industrial disability in two cases involving the shoulder.
Both Carmer and Anderson are on appeal; however, they are the current law of the Agency and should be considered when evaluating shoulder cases.
In Martinez-Rivera v. Signet Builders, Inc., File No.: 5064517.01 (Arb. Dec. Sept. 16, 2021), the deputy commissioner held that the Claimant did not qualify for Second Injury Fund benefits because section 85.64(1) does not list the shoulder as an enumerated body part which may trigger Fund liability.
The question of whether a claimant was entitled to industrial disability pursuant to 85.34(2)(v) due to her voluntary choice to transfer to a lower-paying position with Defendant/Employer was addressed in Kish v. University of Dubuque, File No.: 5066482 (Arb. Dec. July 29, 2021), affirmed on appeal, (App. Dec. Nov. 30, 2021). In Kish, claimant injured her back on May 30, 2018, while working as a lead custodian for the University (making $1.00 more per hour than regular custodians). She was released to return to work without restrictions and placed at MMI on June 19, 2019 and returned to work that same day as a lead custodian, at the same rate of pay and working the same number of hours. Claimant did not think she would be able to handle the lead custodian position when students returned to campus, and so she bid into a regular custodial position in August 2019, which reduced her pay by $1.00/hour.
The deputy held that Claimant made a voluntary choice to transfer, that the University did not request/require Claimant to change positions, and no physician had imposed permanent restrictions that would prevent her from continuing to work as a lead custodian. In light of the above, the Deputy found that the employer had offered Claimant ongoing work in a position that paid the same or more than she earned on the date of injury, limiting her recovery to the functional impairment pursuant to 85.34(2)(v). Kish is currently being appealed.
The agency addressed employer responsibility for an alleged work related COVID-19 death in Bolton v. Marcus Lumber, File No. 20015335.01, 2022 WL 1787479 (Arb. Dec. Mar. 24, 2022).
To establish a compensable injury in Iowa, an employee must establish
that the injury has a causal connection to the employment. The question
of medical causation is “essentially within the domain of expert
testimony.” Cedar Rapids Cmty. Sch. Dist. v. Pease, 807 N.W.2d
839. 844-45 (Iowa 2011). Here, both parties presented expert witnesses
to opine when Bolton may have contracted COVID-19, which ultimately led
to his death. The employer provided evidence they followed all CDC
guidelines and precautions for their employees, including requiring
masks, social distancing, temperature checks, and negative COVID tests
for employees before return to work after exhibiting symptoms. In this
case, multiple employees had tested positive for COVID in the weeks
leading up to Bolton’s diagnosis, however, the employer was not found
liable. The Claimant did not meet the burden of proof where evidence was
introduced indicating Claimant was not following the CDC guidelines in
his personal life where he was gathering with family outside of his
household, going out to lunch, and working for the fire department all
while not wearing a mask.
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Peddicord Wharton Legal Updates are intended to provide information on current developments in legislation impacting our clients. Readers should not rely solely upon this information as legal advice. Peddicord Wharton attorneys would be pleased to answer any questions you may have about this update. ©2022 Peddicord Wharton. All Rights Reserved.