Iowa Court of Appeals Determines That an Unsuccessful Job Search Subsequent to an Arbitration Decision Can Constitute a Sufficient “Change in Condition” Justifying Review Reopening

by | Feb 12, 2014

Recently, in Searle Petroleum v. Mlady, the Court of Appeals of Iowa determined that even absent a physical change in a claimant’s condition, a claimant could have a successful review reopening by demonstrating that he attempted to find work subsequent to a prior Arbitration Decision. Essentially, in Searle Petroleum, the Claimant had proceeded to hearing before a Deputy Commissioner. At hearing, the Deputy Commissioner determined that the Claimant incurred an 80% industrial disability for his back injury. However, the deputy determined that the Claimant was not permanently totally disabled as he demonstrated little to no evidence of having conducted job searches subsequent to his injury. The deputy determined that the Claimant’s pessimistic attitude regarding a return to work was the genesis at least in part of his inability to return to the workforce.

Subsequently, Claimant filed a review reopening with the Commission alleging that there was a significant and substantial change in his circumstances justifying a reopening of the prior Arbitration Award. The deputy presiding over the review reopening matter determined that based on Claimant’s testimony that he applied for jobs with 13 employers, there was sufficient evidence that Claimant’s economic situation warranted an award of permanent and total disability. In affirming the award of permanent total disability, the Court of Appeals of Iowa reasoned that a physical change in Claimant’s health condition was unnecessary. The Court reasoned that Iowa case law allowed for a review reopening on the basis of a worker sustaining an economic change in condition subsequent to an arbitration decision.

There was little detail in the Court’s decision as to what evidence truly supported that Claimant made credible efforts to find jobs within his restrictions. That being said, this case does demonstrate the apparently low burden claimants sometimes have to bear when seeking a modification of an award through methods other than an appeal and the effect that actively undergoing efforts to return to work may have on a deputy’s analysis of industrial disability incurred. For questions regarding review reopenings in the Iowa Workers’ Compensation context, please contact Iowa Workers’ Compensation attorney Paul Barta at