Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C.

Welcome to the blog for Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C., devoted to developments in the field of workers' compensation in the State of Iowa. We hope the blog provides helpful information to users, including updates of Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases of interest to claimants and workers' compensation practitioners.

Neifert, Byrne & Ozga represents only injured workers in workers' compensation claims in Iowa. This blog is meant to provide accurate and updated information on state of workers' compensation claims in our state. Should you have further questions, please contact us at Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C, 1441 29th Street, Suite 111, West Des Moines, IA 50266. Tel. 888-926-2117 (toll free). Visit us on the web at www.nbolawfirm.com or www.iowa-workers-comp.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Court of Appeals Affirms Holding that Injury Was Scheduled Rather than Industrial Injury

In Janssen v. Merry Lanes, No. 15-1511 (Iowa App. Sept. 14, 2016), the Court of Appeals upheld the determination by the commissioner that claimant's injury was to the leg and not the body as a whole.  Claimant suffered an injury to her hamstring while working as a bartender.  The deputy concluded that claimant's injury extended to the body as a whole and awarded permanent total disability benefits.  The commissioner reversed, concluding that claimant's injury was a scheduled member injury to the leg and awarding 72.6 weeks of benefits.

Claimant argued that the essence of prior court decisions was that the nerves and veins were system wide injuries which extended beyond a scheduled member.  In support of this assertion, claimant cited Collins v. IDHS, 529 N.W.2d 627 (Iowa App. 1995) and First Fleet Corp. v. Hannam, No. 14-1254 (Iowa App. July 9, 2015).  The court in Janssen reads Collins as not reaching the question of whether reflex sympathetic dystrophy was an injury compensable by the industrial method. The Collins decision, however, specifically indicates that under Barton v. Nevada Poultry Co., 110 N.W.2d 660 (1961), claimant was entitled to industrial disability because her nervous system was a part of the body not included in the schedule.  Id. at 629.  The Janssen  court went on to indicate that in Hannam, the agency had concluded that the conclusion that a nervous system injury was industrial was supported by substantial evidence.  In Ms. Janssen's case, however, the court held that since the commissioner found that this was not an industrial injury, and substantial evidence supported this conclusion, the decision of the commissioner should be affirmed.  EMG findings cited by the commissioner indicated that the condition was confined to the leg, and these findings were supported by substantial evidence.

Although the result of the case may be correct, the court appears to have misapplied Collins, which stands for the proposition that reflex sympathetic dystrophy/complex regional pain syndrome is an industrial injury.  Since RSD/CRPS was not at issue in Ms. Janssen's case, this may not be a major concern, but is something practitioner's should be cognizant of when handling RSD/CRPS cases.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Court of Appeals Rejects Employer's Review-Reopening Challenge

Defendants in O'Reilly Auto Parts v. Kuder, No. 15-0890 (Iowa App. Sept. 14, 2016), filed an appeal of the commissioner's decision refusing to reopen a permanent total disability award.  Defendants claimed that the commissioner committed legal error when considering whether Kuder's economic circumstances had changed, applied an improper burden of proof and reached his decision without support of substantial evidence.

Defendants had filed the review reopening action within one month of the appeal decision finding permanent total disability.  Claimant was working part time at the time of the decision granting PTD benefits, but later lost that job when he moved to a smaller community.  Defendants' vocational expert opined that claimant, who had a shoulder injury, had an industrial loss, but that there were many jobs for which claimant was qualified, even with restrictions.  The deputy found that claimant was just as disabled as he was at the time of the original arbitration hearing.  The commissioner affirmed, finding that there was no significant physical or economic change from the prior finding.

Defendants first argued that the commissioner erred in considering the job market in rural Iowa, where claimant had moved following the initial hearing.  The court rejected this argument, finding that claimant's conditions remained the same following the initial hearing and found that the employer's failure to prove that claimant's work capacity had increased doomed their argument.

The court next rejected defendants' argument that once an employer had demonstated "partial work capacity", the burden of production should shift to the employee to demonstrate that work was unavailable.   The court concluded that the defendants, even assuming the correctness of the burden shifting argument, had failed to demonstrate that claimant's work capacity had improved.

Finally, the court concluded that substantial evidence supported the decision of the agency.  The court found that credibility and claimant's testimony was a factor in determining whether substantial evidence supported the decision and rejected defendants' argument.