The Iowa Court of Appeals in Gallo v. Penford Products Ruled Against A Claimant Alleging Mental Injury Claims Arising out of his Accepted Physical Injury When There was Strong Evidence That Claimant’s Mental Symptoms Were Largely Personal in Nature
Recently, the Court of Appeals of Iowa noted several factors which led it to conclude that a Claimant’s mental injury claim arising out of an accepted physical injury claim was not compensable. In Gallo v. Penford Products Company, 2013 WL 98891, a Claimant with an accepted work-related back injury also alleged that he had additional impairment arising out of mental distress and emotional conditions related to his workers’ compensation claim. In Gallo, the Claimant had an accepted back injury which resulted in permanent work restrictions ranging from medium to light-duties. The Claimant alleged that his physical injuries, when combined with his alleged mental injuries, rendered him permanently and totally disabled. The Claimant also alleged that the physical injuries and treatment for the same caused him to relapse into a prescription drug addiction, resulting in his being charged with attempting to falsely impersonate a doctor for purposes of obtaining a prescription, and his ultimate termination related to the same.
However, the Commission noted, and the Court of Appeals of Iowa agreed, that there were specific factors in Claimant’s life both pre and post injury which demonstrated that any mental condition he may have had arose from his personal life, not his work injury. In noting that Claimant’s mental health condition was personal and not work related. In doing so, the Court noted that the Claimant’s stress and/or mental condition arose out of the personal factors: (1) Claimant was previously involved in the criminal justice system, resulting in temporary incarceration, (2) Claimant’s adult daughter became estranged from him due to his criminal behavior, (3) his youngest daughter had serious health conditions, (4) Claimant’s union would not take his grievance as to his termination at work to the arbitration level, (5) Claimant had financial woes and (6) his wife had been hospitalized.
What is interesting is that the reviewing Deputy Commissioner also found that one of the factors resulting in Claimant’s stress was “his protracted workers’ compensation case”. It would appear that the Deputy Commissioner weighed all the factors contributing to Claimant’s mental stress and found that although some may have arisen out of his accepted work-related injury, the vast majority were related to his personal life and decisions and determined that the condition was not work related.
As a practical matter, this demonstrates the need for significant investigation and/or discovery. Had the evidence of Claimant’s other life stressors not been found and/or presented to the medical experts and the Deputy Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner would not have had any basis to find that Claimant’s alleged mental injuries were personal in nature and thus not compensable.
For more information regarding practical steps that can be taken to defend against “mental” claims in Iowa workers’ compensation matters, please contact Paul Barta at firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 475-1075.