Cutler Law Firm, P.C.

Seaman v. City of Des Moines, Iowa

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner recently issued an appeal decision that provides guidance on the requirement in Iowa that an injury “arise out of” the employment for it to be compensable. You are receiving this letter because we wanted you to be aware of this case in particular and how these cases are analyzed and decided more generally.

In Seaman v. City of Des Moines, Iowa, File Nos. 5053418, 5057973, 5057974 (App. Oct. 11, 2019), the injured employee was a public works assistant who worked a desk job. On October 9, 2016, he sustained a hernia when he reached down to pick up a pen or paper clip that had fallen off his desk. The issue was whether the nature of his work exposed him to a risk of such an injury. The claimant argued his hernia injury was compensable because a pen or a paper clip is a working tool for persons who work a desk job, and the way he had to twist and contort his body to pick up the fallen object caused a risk of an injury. At the arbitration level, the deputy commissioner agreed with the claimant and awarded benefits.

Commissioner Cortese reversed. He appeared to focus on the typical job requirements of a public works assistant and whether those tasks would cause a risk of a hernia injury:

The risk of suffering a hernia in this circumstance is in no way connected to claimant’s employment with defendant. Any risk of injury associated with picking up a paper clip seems to have been singular to claimant and is not causally connected to the conditions of the workplace environment. In this instance, claimant was not fulfilling a work duty by picking up a paper clip. The act of picking up a paper clip was merely coincidental to his work as a [public works assistant].

These types of cases are inherently fact specific. For instance, the Commissioner recently held that a shoulder injury an employee sustained when she pushed open a door at work was compensable when that door was a heavy, commercial-grade door that was bigger and stronger than the type of door someone would have in their home. Voshell v. Compass Group, USA, Inc./Chartwells d/b/a Au Bon Pain Café, File No. 5056857 (App. Sept. 27, 2019).

We believe the takeaway from Seaman is that the facts of each case need to be closely scrutinized to determine the exact activity the employee was doing at the time of the injury and whether the injury the employee actually sustained was a rational consequence of a hazard connected with that activity.

As always, our office is prepared to answer any questions you may have about complex causation questions so please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Chuck Cutler
Steve Brown
Bob Gainer
Greg Taylor
John Cutler

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