A Reason for Further Investigation When Your Injured Iowa Employee Requests a Hasty Full Duty Release

by | Jan 20, 2016

On November 25, 2015, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a decision in Carl A. Nelson & Co. and Zurich North American Ins. Co. v. Sloan, No. 15-0323, 2015 WL 7574232 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 25, 2015). Sloan sustained a work-related back strain injury on August 15, 2011 and was released to full-duty work 9 days later on August 24, 2011. On October 30, 2011, Sloan injured his back in a similar fashion while helping a friend load go-karts on to a trailer but conservative treatment for this injury failed. Sloan underwent back surgery and was placed at maximum medical improvement two years later on January 14, 2013.

At issue was the effect of the October 30, 2011 on the August 15, 2011 work injury given the full duty release after 9 days. The hearing deputy ruled that the go-kart injury was a new injury which was unrelated to the August 15, 2011 work injury. However, the Commissioner reversed the hearing deputy finding Sloan’s testimony credible that he requested a full-duty release because he could not financially afford to be on light duty with shortened work hours. Furthermore, the Commissioner noted that the go-kart injury did not break the causal chain because Sloan was engaging in an ordinary activity of daily living which was no more strenuous than his work duties. The District Court agreed with the Commissioner.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court and Commissioner finding there was substantial evidence to support that the go-kart injury was a direct and natural result of the August 15, 2011 work injury. This was because Sloan and his expert provided evidence that his back was in a more vulnerable state as a result of the work injury at the time of the go-kart injury. The Court of Appeals further declared that Sloan’s actions were not rashly undertaken with knowledge of the risk created by the weakened member and he did not intentionally violate an express or implied prohibition of his treating physician.

This decision highlights that it is important to make certain a quick full duty return to work accurately reflects the physical condition rather than a financial need. Therefore, in a situation where you have an injured employee requesting a hurried full duty release, it is important to inquire into the true reason for the full duty release and then take steps to have accurate work restrictions assessed. That way, if an employee does sustain a subsequent non-work related injury, there is a stronger defense that the employee failed to abide by the restrictions and therefore the second injury broke the causal connection. If you have any questions about this case, intervening and superseding causes, or any other workers’ compensation issues please do not hesitate to contact Iowa Workers’ Compensation Attorney Michael D. Sands at msands@baylorevnen.com or Amanda M. Phillips at aphillips@baylorevnen.com