Iowa Court of Appeals Upholds Neuropathic Injury Limited to Lower Extremity as a “Scheduled Member” Injury
In a recent September 14, 2016 opinion (final publication decision pending), Janssen v. Merry Lanes, Inc., 886 N.W.2d 618 (Iowa Ct. App. 2016), the Iowa Court Appeals ruled on an appeal involving an injury to the nervous system and whether the same should be classified as a “whole body” injury (subject to an award of industrial disability) or a scheduled-member injury.
In Janssen, the employee sustained an injury to her hamstring, which ultimately led to sciatic neuropathy. At arbitration hearing, the Deputy Commissioner ruled that the employee sustained an injury to her body as a whole and was permanently and totally disabled. On appeal, the Commissioner determined that the evidence demonstrated an injury to the left lower extremity (scheduled member) and awarded 72.6 weeks of permanent partial disability based upon the same.
The employee appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals, arguing that Iowa’s case law necessitated a finding that injuries to “the nerves and veins are system wide and extend beyond a scheduled member and are not listed as scheduled members and are therefore compensated industrially.” In response to this argument, the Iowa Court of Appeals provided that the employee mischaracterized Iowa law and the determination of whether an injury to the nervous system is to the “body-as-a-whole” or a “scheduled member” is one which is made based upon the facts.
Under the facts at hand, the Iowa Court of Appeals noted that the Defense provided diagnostic imaging (EMG) which showed that the employee’s sciatic irritation was limited to the hamstring area and did not extend into the low back. As such, the Court held that the evidence of record supported the Commissioner’s finding and that his decision to characterize the injury as a “scheduled member” was not irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable.
In sum, while the Appellate Court’s opinion does not provide us with any groundbreaking precedent regarding how neuropathic injuries should be classified, it serves as a reminder that taking measures during discovery to limit such neurological injuries to the scheduled member in which they originated (e.g., by obtaining medical evidence/diagnostic studies denoting the situs of the injury) can pay dividends in the long run.
If you have a question about this case, the distinction between a “scheduled member” or “whole body” injury, or general questions related to Iowa Workers’ Compensation law; please contact Michael Sands (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Paul Barta (email@example.com).