The Court of Appeals of Iowa Elaborates on What Evidence Can Be Considered by the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner in Determining Permanent Impairment in a Scheduled Member Case

by | Nov 14, 2013

In Horn v. Cummins Filtration/Lake Mills, 2013 WL 595 1216, The Court of Appeals of Iowa elaborated what evidence it could consider in determining permanent partial disability benefits for a scheduled member case. In essence, the Court of Appeals of Iowa was faced with varying impairment ratings for the claimant’s upper extremity injury. Additionally, the claimant testified regarding her perceived impairment/disability and her testimony was somewhat at odds with the medical opinions.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals of Iowa reiterated and elaborated on its prior position in assessing proper permanent impairment for a scheduled member injury. The Court noted that a reviewing Commissioner was required to consider “all evidence and testimony” regarding the functional loss arising out of a work injury. The Court reasoned that determining the functional disability (permanent impairment) for a scheduled member injury is not limited solely to permanent impairment ratings assigned by reviewing physicians, but that lay testimony could also “buttress the medical testimony and would be relevant in material in determining the extent of the employee’s injuries.” While a reviewing deputy may rely heavily upon the impairment rating, the deputy is also required to give consideration to testimony by lay witnesses as to the effect of the injury. This is not limited solely to testimony by the claimant but also by individuals with relevant information as to their observations related to claimant’s ongoing pain and/or ability.

As a practical matter, this case stresses the need to consider not only the functional impairment assigned by a reviewing physician, but also common sense observations of the claimant and claimant’s functional abilities. Therefore, we recommend that as part of the investigation of the claim, it is always important to take the claimant’s statement regarding what he or she perceives their continued functional ability is in terms of day to day activities and work fulfilling work duties. As a corollary, co-workers’ testimony could also be relevant in this assessment. For any questions regarding this case or other issues related to the defense of Iowa workers’ compensation matters, please contact Paul Barta at