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In 2017, the Iowa General Assembly made substantial changes to the Iowa workers’ compensation law, which impact all work injuries occurring on July 1, 2017.
First, the law changed the way that shoulder injuries were treated, reducing the potential compensation for many work-related shoulder injuries. On the other hand, the formula actually increased compensation for some injuries. However, since the changes to the statute were so badly drafted, they will not have the impact that was intended by the employer groups that pushed this legislation. In Chavez v. MS Technology, filed February 5, 2020, the Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner found that the shoulder has traditionally been defined as the narrow gleno-humeral joint between the upper arm bone, the humerus, and the glenoid cavity, which is a ball-and-socket joint next to the scapula. A later decision by the same Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, Deng v. Farmland Foods, held the same way. No ruling has been filed by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner.
Any injury down toward the humerus, which is “distal” to that joint, is considered part of the arm, and anything up toward the neck, or “proximal” to that joint, is considered part of the upper back. Why isn’t the statute interpreted to mean that the shoulder is everything from the upper arm and up toward the neck? Because the agency has, for years, defined the shoulder as that narrow glenohumeral joint. If the legislation had been written with a new definition of “shoulder” that included a larger area, the law might have been interpreted that way. Since the legislation was silent on changing the meaning of “shoulder,” the agency’s definition of “shoulder” is the meaning given to the statute, when the word, “shoulder” is used. That principle of reading the law goes back hundreds of years, to early English Court opinions.
As a result, although insurance carriers and employers thought that the law had been changed to lower the amount that injured workers have to pay, that probably will not be the case. There is no final answer until years of agency and Court appeals settle the subject, but that is the most likely outcome.
In some cases, however, the injured worker may actually be better off using the broader definition of shoulder, as the General Assembly may have intended. For instance, if someone has a shoulder injury, is treated and a treating or examining doctor finds that the worker has lost a specific percentage of the use of the shoulder, using an accepted AMA publication for calculating ratings of the shoulder, it may result in higher compensation, if that worker is still working at the same job and at the same earnings, and if the worker has little or no restrictions.
An attorney who is experienced in Iowa workers’ compensation law is necessary to advise an injured worker on the best course of action. re.