Fourth Quarter 2017
By: Stephen P. Murray
Question: Under Iowa law, can an impairment rating be submitted into evidence and how effective are the ratings in mitigating permanency exposure?
Short Answer: Yes, an impairment rating can be submitted into evidence in Iowa, and they are effective in mitigating permanency, so long as an employee has not suffered an industrial disability (Iowa’s version of a body-as-a-whole injury). Iowa recently amended its laws, removing shoulder injuries from consideration for industrial disability and considering them under scheduled member injuries.
Discussion: In Iowa, there are two types of permanent injuries recognized by the court: 1) scheduled member injuries and 2) industrial disability injuries. The two different types of injuries are valued in different ways. For scheduled member injuries, which include injuries to the arm, leg, foot, eye, ear (hearing loss), hand, fingers, toes, and now shoulder, the Iowa Legislature places a cap on the number of weeks an employee can receive permanent partial disability benefits (“PPD”). The court determines an impairment rating through the evidence submitted by both the employee and employer. It is not uncommon in Iowa for an employee to submit one set of permanent impairment ratings and an employer to submit a different set. Because employers control the course of medical treatment and choice of physician in Iowa, so long as they remain proactive and authorize treatment when needed, employees utilize their right to a second opinion rating (if they are unsatisfied with the rating given by the treating physician).
For injuries that are not scheduled member injuries (otherwise known as industrial disabilities), permanency is determined through a plethora of factors the court analyzes. These include:
- the injury’s severity;
- the ability for the employee to continue working the same job after the accident;
- the employee’s earning potential after versus before the injury; and
- the employee’s age and education level.
Impairment ratings are much less effective in mitigating permanency exposure for industrial disabilities because they do not take into consideration any of the factors that the Iowa Legislature has determined are necessary to determine body-as-a-whole injuries.
Practice Tip: In Iowa, the employer controls the medical treatment provided for work-related injuries; therefore, it is to the employer’s advantage to be proactive in determining the best suited physician for treatment. It is important to choose a treating physician that is also comfortable giving determinations of maximum medical improvement and permanency because the courts tend to favor medical evidence opined through a treating provider, versus an independent physician solely hired to give a rating and/or a determination of permanency.