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MVP Attorneys Obtain Major Win in Iowa Shoulder Case

MVP Law attorneys Eric Lanham and Kathryn Johnson obtained a major victory today for Iowa businesses and insurance carriers before the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner in Deng v. Farmland Foods, Inc. concerning the state’s compensation of shoulder injuries. File No. 5061883 (Arb. App., Sept. 29, 2020).

In 2017, the Iowa Legislature amended the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act. The legislation was aimed at reducing the costs of Iowa workers’ compensation. The Legislature specifically modified Iowa Code section 85.34 by adding the shoulder to the list of scheduled members. The new subsection states, in its entirety: “For the loss of a shoulder, weekly compensation is paid based on four hundred weeks.” Iowa Code § 85.34(2)(n). Before July 1, 2017, the shoulder was not a scheduled member – it was part of the body as a whole and compensated under an industrial disability analysis.

Since the enactment of the 2017 law changes, the Claimant’s bar has argued that the “shoulder” should include only the glenohumeral joint. This definition would encompass labral injuries and subacromial bursitis. However, rotator cuff injuries, like in the Deng case, would not be included under such a definition.

At the arbitration level in Deng, the deputy commissioner agreed with the Claimant’s definition of “shoulder,” and found claimant sustained injuries to her infraspinatus muscle and labrum. The deputy commissioner determined that because the infraspinatus is proximal to the glenohumeral joint, the claimant sustained an injury that extended beyond the left shoulder. As a result, the deputy commissioner concluded claimant’s injury was not limited to a scheduled member and should be compensated as an unscheduled, whole-body injury.  This approach to the shoulder was similarly adopted in the deputy commissioner decisions of Smidt v. JKB Restaurants, LC, File No. 5067766 (Arb. Dec., May 6, 2020), and Chavez v. Technology, L.L.C., File No. 5066270 (Arb. Dec., Feb. 5, 2020). These arbitration decisions were also appealed to the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner.

On appeal to the Commissioner, MVP argued that the glenohumeral joint and the muscles that make up the rotator cuff, including the infraspinatus, are included within the definition of the “shoulder” under section 85.34(2)(n).  This was the first Commissioner-level decision addressing a post-July 1, 2017, shoulder claim. Amicus briefs were also filed by the Workers’ Compensation Core Group of the Iowa Association for Justice (IAJ) and by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI).

The Commissioner noted that the parties agreed that the glenohumeral joint – or the “ball and socket itself”—falls within parameters of the “shoulder” under section 85.34(2)(n). However, the Commissioner considered whether claimant’s infraspinatus injury should be compensated as a shoulder under section 85.34(2)(n) or as a whole-body injury under section 85.34(2)(v). After careful consideration of the law and facts of the case, the Commissioner determined that the muscles that make up the rotator cuff are included within the definition of “shoulder” as a scheduled member injury under section 85.34(2)(n).

This is a significant victory for businesses and insurance carriers in Iowa. At the time the legislative changes were enacted, state analysts predicted specific provisions of the bill regarding shoulder injuries would reduce benefit payments by 68 percent, or $760,000, for an estimated 176 shoulder injuries each year.[1] With this decision, rotator cuff injuries are once more considered a scheduled injury.

While an appeal to the Iowa District Court for judicial review has not yet been initiated, it is anticipated that this decision will eventually be argued to the Iowa Supreme Court for final consideration. As in all matters, MVP Law stands ready to defend the interests of our clients and advocate on behalf of businesses and insurance carriers.

If you have any questions concerning the Deng decision or Iowa workers’ compensation matters, please contact one of our skilled Iowa attorneys for assistance:

[1] Fiscal Services Division. Fiscal Note HF 518 – Workers’ Compensation (LSB1691HV.1), (Mar. 20, 2017).

Disclaimer and warning: This information was published by McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A., and is to be used only for general informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. This is not inclusive of all exceptions and requirements which may apply to any individual claim. It is imperative to promptly obtain legal advice to determine the rights, obligations and options of a specific situation.