by | Oct 5, 2020

On September 30, 2020, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, Joseph S. Cortese, II, issued another opinion further clarifying the definition of a ‘shoulder’ in Iowa. Chavez v. MS Technology, LLC. was issued on the heels of a prior recent opinion from the Commissioner regarding the definition of a ‘shoulder,’ Deng v. Farmland Foods, Inc. The IADWCC has wrestling with the definition of what parts of the body make up the ‘shoulder’ ever since the Iowa Legislature classified the shoulder as a separate scheduled member injury in 2017. IOWA CODE §85.34(2)(n).

In Deng v. Farmland Foods, Inc., the Commissioner disagreed with prior interpretations of a ‘shoulder’ in Iowa, which had limited the definition of ‘shoulder’ under the statute to the glenohumeral joint. The Commissioner reasoned that the legislature meant the word ‘shoulder’ in Section 85.34(2)(n) to apply more broadly than just the ball and socket joint of the shoulder known as the glenohumeral joint. For more information on Deng v. Farmland Foods, please see Baylor Evnen’s earlier blog post on that particular case by Tom Shires.

In Chavez v. MS Technology, LLC., building on Deng, the Commissioner held that injuries to the glenoid labral and acromion, are injuries to the shoulder, not the body as a whole. The Commissioner found that the glenoid and the acromion were integral to the function of the glenohumeral joint and were located close to the glenohumeral joint itself.

Additionally, the claimant in Chavez argued that she had suffered both a shoulder injury and an arm injury. As such, the claimant argued that her injuries should be compensated against 500 weeks and that she should be assessed for industrial disability under Section 85.34(2)(v). Two scheduled member injuries arising from the same accident in Iowa are typically found to be compensated against 500 weeks but only assessed for functional impairment, not industrial disability. IOWA CODE §85.34(2)(t). However, Section 85.34(2)(t) does not list the shoulder as one of the scheduled member injuries that fall under this provision limiting indemnity to the combined functional impairment. Therefore, claimant argued that an injury to her shoulder and her arm should be compensated as a body-as-a-whole injury under Section 85.34(2)(v).

The Commissioner did not reach the merits of this argument because he found that the claimant in Chavez only had a shoulder injury, not a shoulder and an arm injury. However, the argument highlights an important area of exposure under Section 85.34(2)(t) and we may see various different theories of indemnity liability.

Further, if a claimant has three or more scheduled member injuries arising out of the same accident, regardless if one of them is a shoulder or not, they will likely be compensated against 500 weeks and assessed for industrial disability. IOWA CODE §85.34(2)(v). This fact was reaffirmed in another case recently considered by the Commissioner, Martinez v. Pavlich, Inc., along with its own set of changes in interpretation of Iowa Workers’ Compensation Law. For more information on Martinez v. Pavlich, please see Baylor Evnen’s earlier blog post on that particular case by Paul Barta.

The key take away from Chavez is that the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner continues to evolve how an agency interprets what a ‘shoulder’ is under the statute, as well as changing how the agency treats scheduled member injuries in general. For more information on how these and other changes might impact your specific case, please contact Paul Barta or Micah Hawker-Boehnke at 402-475-1075, for more information.