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Airline worker with frostbite entitled to mental benefits


An airline employee who suffered severe frostbite and necrosis in some of her fingers when plane de-icing liquid seeped into her gloves is entitled to healing pay and mental health benefits associated with her injury.

In Drahozal v. Envoy Air Inc., the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed on Wednesday a deputy workers compensation commissioner’s award of 400 weeks of benefits to the airline worker, although it slightly reduced the penalty owed for late comp payments.

Rukhsana Drahozal worked for American Airlines Group Inc. at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for 16 years. In January 2015, while she was de-icing planes, the de-icing solution seeped through her gloves. Over the next few days, Ms. Drahozal’s fingers began turning reddish-brown, and a few days later she was diagnosed with frostbite on eight fingers, as well as necrosis. She was referred to a hospital burn unit for treatment, and over the next few weeks, several of her fingertips hardened to the touch and lost sensation and one of her fingertips fell off. 

She was treated for anxiety due to “extreme pain” in her fingers that interfered with sleep, and a physician recommended a combination of pain medications, occupational and pain psychology therapies and counseling. She was also diagnosed with major depressive disorder related to her workplace injury.

A year after the accident, an independent medical examiner diagnosed her with chronic bilateral fingertip pain but said no further treatments were likely to help and placed her on maximum medical improvement with a 2% body as a whole impairment rating. Because the physician had placed her on MMI, she was denied healing period pay, and although American Airlines acknowledged her finger injuries, it denied her psychiatric claims.

In July 2016, Ms. Drahozal notified American Airlines that she was retiring, and she filed a petition with the Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner over her disability rating, healing pay and psych claims.

The deputy commissioner found that Ms. Drahozal had sustained an 80% industrial disability because of the frostbite and mental health injury and awarded her 400 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. He also awarded penalty benefits for 11 delayed payments but denied penalties related to her mental health injury because at the time of the denial, “the claim was fairly debatable.”

Both parties appealed and a district court affirmed the deputy commissioner’s decision. Both parties appealed again.

The appellate court affirmed the deputy commissioner’s decision, holding that substantial evidence supported the determination that Ms. Drahozal had severely injured her fingers and experienced a mental health injury as a result of her work injury.

However, the court reversed the deputy commissioner’s decision regarding penalties for the delay of five benefit payments, holding that Ms. Drahozal failed to prove they were late, which reduced the penalty benefit award by $820. The appellate court remanded the case with instruction to amend the penalty benefits award consistent with its opinion.






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