Iowa Supreme Court Rules on Idiopathic Falls

by | Dec 7, 2018

On November 16, 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court rendered a decision regarding idiopathic falls onto level floors. In Bluml v. Dee Jay’s Inc. d/b/a Long John Silvers and Commerce & Industry Ins. Co., the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner who had denied claimant’s petition for benefits.

In this matter, the claimant had a history of seizures for which he was prescribed anti-seizure medication. On the date of his accident, he had called in late for work because he was not feeling well. According to witnesses, while working, claimant experienced a full body seizure, falling “straight backward onto the ceramic tile floor of the restaurant, striking the back of his head.”

At trial, the Deputy Commissioner determined that the claimant had failed to carry his burden of proof, noting that idiopathic falls to level surfaces were not compensable under Iowa law.   The Commissioner and District Court affirmed the dismissal, and claimant appealed.

Upon review, the Iowa Supreme Court noted that the Deputy, the Commissioner, and the District Court all concluded as a matter of law that idiopathic falls onto level floors are not compensable.  The Supreme Court disagreed with this standard and reversed the lower tribunals’ decisions. Citing the increased risk test, the Supreme Court stated:

“Given that the underlying question is really a factual one i.e., whether the conditions of employment increased the employee’s risk, it makes sense for that question to be decided on a case-by-case basis by the commissioner based on the factual record.”

The Court noted that there is no “hard-and-fast rule” in Iowa for idiopathic falls onto level floors. Thus, the Court essentially held that a claimant’s fall onto a level floor will be evaluated on the facts of each case to determine the presence of an increased risk due to a condition of employment.

While the decision herein does not necessarily mean that an idiopathic fall will always be compensable, it eroded any notion of a bright line rule preventing claims for idiopathic falls onto level floors which would have occurred regardless of whether the claimant was working.

For questions or to discuss specific situations, please contact Iowa Workers’ Compensation attorney Michael D. Reisbig at or call (402) 475-1075 to speak with any of Baylor Evnen’s Iowa Workers’ Compensation attorneys.