Iowa Court Affirms Egg Stacker did not Prove Back Injury is Work-Related
On October 6, 2021, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of Zachary Tew’s workers’ compensation claim. Tew filed a petition for worker’s compensation benefits claiming that he was injured during his employment as an egg stacker. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of Tew’s request finding that he did not present credible testimony that his employment caused his injury.
Tew had a history of back pain stemming from a car accident in 2008. After a back surgery, Tew was able to resume normal activities. He worked as an egg stacker for Sparboe Farms from February 25 through May 26, 2016. Tew’s May 25 time card showed that he went home after less than an hour of work. The next day, Tew told his supervisor that he slept on his back wrong. He visited urgent care on May 27, but told the doctor that the pain was typical for a flare-up. He informed the complex administrator that he fell while mowing the lawn and provided Sparboe a doctor’s note excusing him from work through June 12. At this time, he also asked about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), believing he was not eligible for workers’ compensation. Tew did not return to work after the doctor’s note expired. Sparboe officially ended Tew’s employment on June 21.
On July 25, Tew, for the first time, notified Sparboe that he was injured while stacking pallets at work. He also informed his doctor that he was seeking workers’ compensation for his injury caused by repetitive work activities. After that, his doctors referred to the injury as a work injury. During the compensation proceedings, the deputy commissioner found that Tew had a preexisting back condition and that Tew was not a credible witness due to Tew’s conflicting testimony and medical records. Tew appealed and the workers’ compensation commissioner agreed, finding that Tew did not show that the actual cause of his injury was due to his employment at Sparboe. Tew sought further review with the district court. The district affirmed, finding that “the commissioner’s decision was not irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable.” Tew once again appealed.
Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Laws
Iowa law requires employers to provide compensation for personal injuries sustained by an employee arising out of and in the course of the employment. Iowa Code § 85.3. Agriculture employers who have a cash payroll of at least $2,500 in the preceding year must also provide compensation. Id. at 85.1. To have a valid workers’ compensation claim, the employee must show that “(1) the claimant suffered a ‘personal injury,’ (2) the claimant and the respondent had an employer-employee relationship, (3) the injury arose out of the employment, and (4) the injury arose in the course of the employment.” Meyer v. IBP, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 213, 220 (Iowa 2006).
On appeal, Tew argued that the commissioner erred in finding there was not substantial evidence showing a work injury. Specifically, he asserted that his doctors agreed that his employment caused his injury and that the complex administrator’s testimony was not credible. The Court of Appeals disagreed with Tew, finding that he failed to establish that the injury arose “out of” and “in the course of” his employment. The court determined that the commissioner was not bound to consider the medical professionals’ opinions regarding causation because the doctors did not have complete information on the timeline of the injury.
Here, there were multiple plausible scenarios for Tew’s injury. However, the complex administrator’s testimony was more credible. Tew offered conflicting testimony, telling his employer that his injury was due to non-work issues such as sleeping on his back wrong or falling while mowing the lawn. He did not indicate his back pain was due to a work injury until he filed for workers’ compensation. Because the testimony of the complex administrator was more credible than the testimony of Tew, the Court of Appeals affirmed that Tew did not establish that his work activities at Sparboe caused his injury.
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