An Iowa trucker who slipped and fell in his employer's parking lot should receive permanent total disability workers compensation benefits, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled.
James David House drove commercial trucks for much of his career, and was involved in a 2002 vehicle accident that injured his shoulder, neck, fibula and cheekbone, court records show. While working for a different employer in January 2004, he injured his neck again while pushing a truck tire onto a rack.
As a result of the 2004 injury, Mr. House underwent cervical spine fusion surgery and received a workers comp settlement based on receiving a 26.2% permanent disability rating, records show.
Mr. House went on to work as a driver for Knoxville, Iowa-based Mike Brooks Inc. in 2005, records show. He injured his back in 2007 when he slipped and fell in the company's icy parking lot while retrieving cargo.
An orthopedic surgeon found that Mr. House suffered muscle spasms and a spinal disc protrusion, records show. The doctor prescribed physical therapy for Mr. House and later assigned him a 5% permanent physical impairment rating.
Mr. House's condition and pain continued to worsen — including an exacerbation of his injury while opening a door in January 2008 — and he underwent surgeries in 2007 and 2008 to alleviate his suffering, records show. Ultimately, Mr. House was released to work under permanent work restrictions and was assigned a 23% impairment rating as a consequence of his 2007 accident.
Mr. House never returned to work for Mike Brooks after that, records show. He filed for workers comp benefits based on his 2007 fall in the Mike Brooks parking lot, records show.
The Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner awarded benefits to Mr. House, and a state district court in Polk County, Iowa, affirmed that ruling, records show. Mike Brooks appealed, arguing partly that Mr. House's prior neck injury was the cause of his disability, rather than his 2007 fall and 2008 door-opening accident at Mike Brooks.
The Iowa Court of Appeals overturned the benefits award, finding that inconsistent testimony from medical experts regarding the 2008 incident did not support an award of PTD benefits to be paid by Mike Brooks, records show. Mr. House appealed.
The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday unanimously vacated the appellate court ruling and awarded benefits to Mr. House. In its ruling, the high court found that medical experts presented sufficient evidence to support a benefit award to Mr. House, despite the fact that testimony from one doctor did not reference the door-opening incident in 2008.
“Accordingly, we conclude substantial evidence amply supports the causation finding actually made by the commissioner, and we are not at liberty to disturb it on the ground the evidence could support a different determination,” the ruling reads.