The Iowa Court of Appeals, in Des Moines Public Schools v. Ault, No. 0-753 (Iowa App. Nov. 24, 2010), concluded that claimant was permanently and totally disabled. The claim was handled by Jason Neifert of the NBO law firm.
The issues in Ault included whether the agency's decision finding permanent total disability was supported by substantial evidence and whether claimant's alleged misconduct was sufficient to deny her a permanent total disability award. Claimant injured her back at work and ultimately had surgery for that injury. In the wake of this surgery, she suffered from infection and continuing pain. She developed a major depressive disorder secondary to the physical problems she was having.
Defendants raised issues unrelated to the work injury, including fights in which claimant was involved, drug possession and failure to fully cooperate with treatment. Despite these claims, the commissioner determined that claimant was permanently and totally disabled due to her back and psychological problems.
Employing standard substantial evidence analysis, the court found that there was substantial evidence to support the conclusion that claimant was unable to perform jobs that were available in the community and to realistically compete for those jobs. The court noted that physicians had concluded that claimant had both physical and mental problems that made it difficult for her to work due to the combination of problems.
On the issue of refusal of treatment and negligent behavior, the court rejected defendants' argument that refusal of treatment should bar an award of permanent total disability benefits. The court found that claimant's behavior did not rise to the level of a willful refusal of care. The court also concluded that "unreasonable refusal of care alone does not bar recovery." The court noted that defendants did not argue that the refusal of care somehow broke the chain of causation between the work injury and claimant's physical and mental condition. Similarly, the court rejected the claim that claimant's history of illegal drug use and physical altercations should bar her recovery of benefits. Defendants did not establish that these events were an intervening cause aggravating her injuries, and the failure to do so was fatal to this defense.
Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C.
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