Court of Appeals Allows Commissioner to Pick and Choose Portions of Expert Opinions in Determining Permanent Impairment
In West Des Moines Community Schools v. Fry, 2014 WL 5475510 (Iowa Ct. App. 2014), the Court of Appeals found that it was not error for the commissioner to rely on certain parts of expert opinions, rather than each opinion as a whole, in determining the claimant’s permanent impairment. Fry started working as a custodian for West Des Moines Schools in March 2001. His work entailed considerable physical activity. On January 15, 2007, he was walking down an icy ramp at work and fell, causing an abrasion to his left hip. On October 6, 2008, he was maneuvering a heavy vacuum when he felt a “pop” and experienced stinging pain on the “left side of [his] spine, that hip area, that SI joint.”
On December 29, 2009, Fry filed petitions for workers’ compensation benefits for both injuries, but eventually dismissed the petition related to the January 2007 injury. He alleged that the injury he sustained in October 2008 was both traumatic and cumulative. The deputy commissioner determined that Fry failed to carry his burden to prove the October 2008 injury resulted in permanent or temporary disability, finding that Dr. Stoken, Fry’s IME physician, “lumped together” both the January 2007 and the October 2008 injuries when she assigned permanent impairment.
On appeal, the commissioner reversed the deputy’s decision, relying on the opinion of Fry’s treating physician Dr. Honsey, as well as the IME by Dr. Stoken. The commissioner wrote: “Combining [Dr. Honsey’s] view with the view of Dr. Stoken that claimant’s sacroiliac injury is cumulative, placed in context both the 2007 injury and the last significant exacerbation on October 6, 2008.” The commissioner found that the cumulative work injury began in January 2007, manifested in October 2008, and caused the permanent impairment and activity restrictions delineated by Dr. Stoken. The commissioner therefore agreed with Dr. Stoken that Fry suffered a 25% loss of earning capacity. The district court affirmed.
The employer argued that the commissioner erred in “selectively culling parts of expert opinions” from Dr. Honsey and Dr. Stoken and thereby “distorting these opinions almost beyond recognition.” The Court of Appeals disagreed, determining that the commissioner did not err in relying on selected portions of the opinions rather than each opinion as a whole. The Court noted that “the commissioner does have the authority to pick and choose which aspects of an expert opinion deserve weight” [emphasis supplied]. Gits Mfg. Co. v. Frank, 2014 WL 5286513 (2014). The Court ruled that the doctors’ opinions offered ample support for the commissioner’s finding that Fry should be compensated for a 25% loss of earning capacity due to the cumulative injury to his left SI joint, and affirmed.
For more information on expert opinions and how they may be used by the courts to determine a claimant’s permanent impairment, please contact Sara Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the Baylor Evnen Iowa Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at (402) 475-1075.